5 Margaret Thatcher
Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was a dominant force in world politics from 1979 to 1992. Dubbed the “Iron Lady” by her Soviet foes during the Cold War, Thatcher brought to office a free-market economic ideology that closely mirrored that of Ronald Reagan in the United States. She advocated lowering taxes, reducing state-run social programs and privatizing state-owned industries. Such policies, often known as “Thatcherism,” continue to influence conservative governments around the world today.
4 Coco Chanel
Perhaps best known today for her perfume, makeup and jewelry, Coco Chanel revolutionized women’s fashion in the 1920s. Until Chanel arrived, women were limited to long skirts, restrictive dresses and corsets. Chanel introduced simple and practical fashion designs that gave women a physical freedom that reflected the social and political changes of the time, including the first suits and trousers designed for women. Her business sense also made Chanel the first internationally recognized female entrepreneur.
3 Marie Curie
Before Marie Curie’s pioneering work with radium and X-ray technology, doctors had no way to find out what was going on inside a patient without cutting them open and feeling around inside. Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, dedicated themselves to understanding radioactivity and even discovered two new elements: radium and polonium, which was named after her native Poland. Curie won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1911. During World War I, Curie believed so strongly in the surgical benefits of X-rays that she brought portable X-ray machines to the front. For the first time in history, medical staff could see inside patients before surgery.
2 Susan B. Anthony
One of the 19th century’s most powerful women’s movement campaigners, Susan B. Anthony fought tirelessly for women’s right to vote. She was also a noted labor activist, slavery abolitionist and educational reformer. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, finally gave women the right to vote in 1920, 14 years after her death. Anthony’s work paved the way for millions of women to have an active role in the U.S. political system and in the course of civilization.
1 Queen Elizabeth I
The daughter of Henry VIII, Elizabeth succeeded to the English throne in 1558. Highly educated, Elizabeth was fluent in six languages, and her country flourished politically and culturally under her reign. William Shakespeare wrote most of his plays under her reign. Sir Francis Drake sailed around the globe, and Sir Walter Raleigh established the American colony, Virginia, in honor of his virgin Queen. When Elizabeth’s navy annihilated the Spanish Armada in 1588, England emerged as a world power, spreading its language and culture across the entire globe.