We all have our idols and icons who have been our sources of inspiration. In a male dominated world with gender equality becoming relevant only during recent times, there have been women who have left their footprints in the sands of time by their devotion, unfailing hard work and never backing down from their true calling. displaying strength and conviction against the harshest of times they have become famous all over the world, becoming legends of their respective fields. Here is a list of the most famous women ever born on Earth.
10. Mata Hari
Mata Hari was born Margaretha zelle on august 7th, 1876 in Netherlands. After suffering from bankruptcy when she was 13, their father deserted them and on the death of their mother 2 years later, she was given away to her godfather. Unhappy, she left to go to her uncle where she did household errands till she got married to Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod, twenty years her senior. A victim of an abusive marriage she had two children Norman and Jeanne. The couple had a difficult divorced in 1907. In 1903, Margaretha moved to Paris, took the name Mata Hari meaning ‘eye of dawn’ and performed as a circus horse rider and an artist’s model, but by 1905 she quickly gained popularity as an exotic dancer and stripper.
She pretended to be an Indian Brahman taught to dance during her childhood as a service to lord Shiva. A free spirited artist, there were several men with whom she developed intimate relationships. At a gradual decline since 1912, her career finally came to an end in 1915. During the First World War she was arrested by the English government on suspicion of espionage for the German army. In spite of the lack of definitive proof, Mata Hari was executed by the firing squad on 15 October 1917 aged 41. With thick black hair, olive complexion she had an exotic appeal which mesmerized people and made Mata Hari synonymous with sensuality, spying and mystery. With the reputation of being a femme fatale she is one of the most intriguing personalities of the world.
9. Harriet Tubman
One of the bravest women in history, she is famously known as the” Moses of the black people”. Born around 1820 in Maryland in the era of slavery, she suffered brutality at the hand of her masters, and escaped in 1849 leaving her family behind. With fierce determination and courage, she made her way north to Philadelphia where she found work and saved enough money to return to the south. She made 19 dangerous trips to the south during which she used her wit to devise schemes to lead her family as well as several other oppressed black slaves, via the underground railroad(a secret network of safe houses for the slaves to hide en route to the north) to freedom, never Losing a single person.
She became a wanted figure with a bounty on her head which made these rescue trips all the more perilous. A leading abolitionist, she worked as a spy and a nurse for the union during the civil war, post which she settled in Auburn, New York till her death in 1913. A leading example of courage and fortitude, she overcame all obstacles to liberate thousands of slaves making an indelible mark in history.
8. Marie Antoinette
The last queen of France, she is most famous for addressing her starving French subjects with not even bread to eat by saying “Let them eat cake”. The 15th child of Maria Theresa the Austrian empress, she was married to Louis Augusta, heir to the French throne in may 1770 at the age of 14. She became the queen of France aged 19 in 1774 after Auguste succeeded Louis XV to the throne. Extremely vivacious, extravagant and promiscuous, she was fond of gambling and partying. She came under fire for her obnoxious lifestyle and her ignorance, when the rest of the country was suffering due to poor economy and bad harvests in 1780. In 1785 a thief posing as Marie Antoinette smuggled a priceless diamond necklace to London and though she was innocent, her reputation was irreversibly impaired and she came to be known as “Madame Deficit”.
The French revolution began in 1789 and following the storming of angry crowds that demanded the royal couple to be brought to Paris, Marie attempted to take help from other rulers to help save France’s monarchy. In 1791 their plot to flee France was foiled and they were returned to Paris and in 1792, after monarchy was abolished the new republic executed Louis XVI and a year later Marie Antoinette was executed on October 16, 1793. She is famous as a villain for her adulterous extravagant ignorance representing the vile monarchy and is believed to have been the instigation for the French revolution.
Believed to be born around 63 B.C as Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator, her family ruled Egypt a hundred years before her birth. She ruled Egypt from 51 BC to 30 BC and was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Ascending the throne at the age of 18 along with her 10 year old brother Ptolemy XIII, she had to struggle to rule an economically weak kingdom constantly affected by floods and famine. She fled to Syria after political problems between her and her brother intensified. The civil war in Rome between Julius Caesar and Pompei brought Julius Caesar to Egypt where he fell in love with Cleopatra, who bore him a child, and with his help she dethroned her brother and became queen.
Following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Rome’s control was being fought for between his great nephew Octavius and Marc Antony. Cleopatra came down to Rome where Antony fell in love in her and attempted to use her military support to rule over Rome. Smart and calculative, Cleopatra offered help in exchange for Egypt’s eastern empire and in the battle of Actium their combined forces lost to Octavian Caesar and they escaped to Egypt where they committed suicide. One of the most famous women in history, she is celebrated as an epitome of beauty and political acuity for exalting her wrecked empire to great heights and prove herself as a powerful and worthy leader as a woman in a male dominated society.
6. Joan of arc
Known as the maid of Orleans, Joan of arc was born in a peasant family on January 6th around the year 1412 in France during a period of political turmoil. A civil war had erupted within France due to rivalry between two factions of the royal family- “Orleanist” and Burgundians”, while France was still negotiating a truce with England which claimed the French throne. By 1417 England had conquered much of France and with the support of the Burgundians ascended the French throne. At a very early age Joan is reported to have heard voices and had visions which she identified as St Catherine, St Margaret, the archangel Michael and certain other angels.
In 1428 she had visions of a direct order from the saints and angels to drive out the English and the Burgundians to establish the Orleaners as the rightful heirs to the throne of France, and after opposition from churchmen and courtiers and being scoffed at for her supernatural claims, she finally managed to meet king Charles VII, and at the age of 17 she led the army against the English achieving several astounding successes. During an attempt to relieve Compiegne she was captured and sold to the English by the Burgundians. After being imprisoned for several months she was burnt at the stake on the accusation of being a sorceress because of her statements about her visions. Posthumously, she was acquitted and established as a martyr and in 1920 she was canonized as a saint.
5. Marie curie
Born Maria sklodowska on November 7th 1876 in Poland she is famous for her research on radioactivity. Born during political turmoil, her family suffered Loss of their fortune due to their patriotic activities. Her parents who were both teachers ensured that they got educated well. Since women were barred from studying at the University of Warsaw she studied at a floating university. With dreams of higher education Marie began to work as a governess and studied during her spare time finally at age 24, she earned enough money to go for higher education to Paris where she completed master’s degree in physics and mathematics. Soon after she met Pierre curie to utilize his lab to research on the magnetic properties of steels and eventually they got married.
The discovery of x rays by Wilhelm Roentgen and the discovery of similar rays emitted by uranium by Henry Becquerel led them to experiment further and discover radium and radioactivity as a powerful source of energy. She received her doctorate in France in 1903 becoming the first woman to do so; their work on radioactivity revolutionized science immediately catapulting them into fame; for which they also received a Nobel Prize. Pierre died in an accident in 1906 which led her to build a Radium Institute in his memory, which became one of four major radioactivity research laboratories. She won her second Nobel Prize in 1911 for chemistry, the first and only woman to win in two fields. She also greatly contributed during the war treating soldiers with radon to sterilize injured tissue. She died in 1934 from Aplastic anemia as a result of her exposure to radiation. Overcoming gender as well as financial hurdles to change the foundation of physics, she became an icon and an inspiration. With several institutions, museums and cancer hospitals named after her, she is one of the most influential and famous women of the world.
4. Marilyn Monroe
One of the world’s biggest sex symbols Marilyn Monroe born on June 1 1962 in Los Angeles California was named Norma Jeane Mortensen. She spent most of her childhood in foster care with an absentee father and her mother in the psychiatric hospital. Sexually abused she saw her way out by getting married to her boyfriend Jimmy Dougherty at age 16. She became a successful model in the years that followed and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe and her ambition to become an actress soon resulted in her divorce in 1946 when she also got her first movie contract.
Though initially she did not do very well, she became popular with her role in the ‘Asphalt jungle’ and ‘All about eve’ in 1950. In the ensuing years, she rose to fame as an actress and became an international sex symbol with films like ‘Niagara’, ‘ Gentlemen prefer blondes’, ‘There’s no business like show business’, ‘The seven year itch’ and ‘Some like it hot’. Her personal life fared badly in comparison with three broken marriages and several unsuccessful romantic relationships. On august 5, 1962 she was found dead with a bottle of sleeping pills, with the cause of death attributed to drug overdose.She was only 36 when she died, and the cause for her suicide is still unknown, though there are speculations of her involvement with President Kennedy. Beautiful, sexy and talented she is still an iconic sex symbol with several celebrities aping her even today.
3. Lady Diana
One of the most cherished and admired figures of the world, Princess Diana Spencer was born on July 1, 1961 in England. She became Lady Diana in 1975 after her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer. Shy and interested in fashion and popular culture she was married to Prince Charles the heir to the British throne after a brief courtship on July 29 1981 in a fairy tale marriage. They had two kids prince William and prince Harry. An extremely charitable person she worked to help the homeless and people suffering from AIDS and HIV using her popularity to bring these issues to light which made her a loved figure.
On the personal front, her marriage hit a rocky patch and the couple got divorced in 1996. In 1997 her relationship with Egyptian film producer Dodi Al Fayed caused a huge media flurry, with the frenzied paparazzi vying to take pictures of this high profile couple. In news that shook the world, the couple had a car crash on august 30, 1997 while trying to escape from the media and succumbed to their injuries. Crowned as the ‘people’s princess’, thousands of people joined her funeral procession to pay tribute to her. Beautiful and charismatic, she was an inspiration to us all by virtue of her compassion and charitable work.
2. Florence nightingale
Born into an affluent family on May 12, 1820 in France, Florence nightingale was the second child. She was forbidden to pursue her dream which was nursing since it was considered a low class menial labour for a person of high social standing and stature. Despite her parents opposition, she enrolled in the Lutherian hospital of pastor Fliedner in Germany to be a nurse and returned to London in 1850s to take up a nursing job at Middlesex hospital where she worked hard to improve hygiene in the hospital amidst the rapid spread of cholera.
Not long after, with the Crimean war breaking out between Russia and England, hospitals were brimming with wounded soldiers in dire need of attention. Florence assembled a team of 34 nurses and left for Crimea where the torrid conditions of the hospital left them horrified. Florence quickly set to work cleaning every bit of the hospital with vigour. She administered to each and every patient and earned the name of the ‘lady with the lamp’ because of her nightly rounds with a lamp. She reduced the death rate by almost two thirds and set new standards for medical care. Rewarded by the Queen for her noble efforts, she used the money to fund a training school for nurses. Despite contracting Crimean fever which confined her to her bed, she continued to advocate for health care reforms. She died on august 13, 1910 and was laid to rest at Westminster abbey. Credited with making nursing the noble profession it is today, she became a role model for several young women of her era to become nurses.
1. Mother Teresa
An Albanian national she was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on august 26, 1910 in Macedonia. Inspired at an early age by her extremely pious and religious mother, Agnes decided to become a nun at age 18 and joined the Loreto sisters of Dublin in Ireland where she adopted the name sister Mary Theresa. In May 1931 she was sent to Calcutta to teach at Saint Mary’s high school for girls who catered to the girls of Bengals poorest families. She took on the title of mother after her final vows of a life of Poverty, obedience and chastity.
After an incident where Christ spoke to her to forego teaching to help the poor and the sick of the city she founded the missionaries of charity with the help of the government and with increasing donations the charitable activities also increased as well as spread internationally. She won the Nobel peace prize in bringing help to suffering humanity in 1979. For her unselfish commitment to helping those in need, she is considered one of the greatest humanitarians the world has seen.She died on September 5 1997 at the age of 87 and her dying words were and I quote, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus. ”