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Top 5 Most Inspirational Women of All Time

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Forget girl power. Being an inspiring woman is about more than just being a woman—a lot of people have already mastered that. It’s about breaking boundaries, pursuing challenges in the face of adversity, being a leader and proving naysayers wrong. While there were hundreds of awesome women throughout the ages—including your mom—a handful are considered cream of the crop.

5 Anne Frank

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Though her life was too short, Anne Frank showed the world that teens can be smart, wise and funny, inspiring young people around the world. Her diaries are among the few accounts of life in Amsterdam from the point of view of someone hiding from anti-Jewish persecution during World War II. She showed the world the real people behind the compelling and horrifying pictures of Holocaust victims, and serves as a warning about the devastation that can result from bigotry.

4 Marie Curie

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Marie Sklodowska Curie showed the world that women are smart. She was a chemist and physicist who discovered radium and polonium, so you can thank her for making the Periodic Table of Elements longer. She also figured out how to isolate radioactive isotopes. For her accomplishments, Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win a Nobel in two fields and the only person in Nobel history to win a prize in two types of science.

3 Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah Winfrey rose past racial and gender barriers to become one of the most powerful businesswomen in the U.S. and the media industry. The self-made millionaire helped launched the careers of the formerly unknown, including chef Rachael Ray, and Winfrey maintained her success even after she stopped taping her daytime talk show. While Winfrey has thoroughly enjoyed her financial victories, her philanthropic heart is equally as inspiring. In addition to supporting and creating various charities, Winfrey donated $40 million toward the building of a school for underprivileged South African girls in 2007.

2 Lucille Ball

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More than just a funny lady with fiery red hair, Lucille Ball paved more paths than she ever imagined. She showed the world that a woman could have a leading role in Hollywood and be the owner of a successful company in a male-dominated landscape. Her TV character showed that a good wife doesn’t have to be perfect, and that she can use her wits to get out of trouble. Ball’s marriage to Desi Arnaz, a Latino, was a sign to the country that inter-ethnic marriages were acceptable at a time when some considered them taboo. She also showed women that they are allowed to get out of a marriage that’s hostile, and be a strong single mother at the same time.

1 Mother Teresa

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Mother Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in Albania when it was still part of the Ottoman Empire. After a 1946 trip through India, she felt a calling to work and live with the poor who she met in the country. She transformed the Loreto convent into a simple and powerful center that served India’s forgotten, unwanted and neglected, before moving to Calcutta to do the same type of work. During her years of service, Mother Theresa established hospices, orphanages and convalescent homes, first in India and then around the world. She inspired hundreds of people, religious and otherwise, to reach out to those who could not help themselves.

Flora Richards-Gustafson

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