Top 100 Women of History

Top Women on the Web

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Top 100 Women of History." ThoughtCo, Jun. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/top-women-of-history-3529519. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, June 12). Top 100 Women of History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-women-of-history-3529519 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Top 100 Women of History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-women-of-history-3529519 (accessed September 22, 2017).

Top 100 Women of History - Introduction | How I Selected and Sequenced the List | More Women A-Z

Who are the most popular women of history, on the Net? Here's a section of the list of the top 100 in popularity.  The MOST popular have the highest ranking numbers (that is, #100 is the one most popular with web searchers). If the name is underlined, you'll find a biography or article about her.

Are the results what you expected? I had a lot of surprises, myself. If you don't find a favorite, it's likely that I did look her up (I included more than 300 women in my research), but her web popularity, over a number of years, just didn't stack up. Solution? More media exposure, more attention to history standards, more education.

Note: rankings have certainly changed somewhat since this article was written.

100
of 100
Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson. Getty Images
Pioneer environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote the book that helped create the environmentalist movement in the late 20th century. More »
Isadora Duncan dancing with a scarf
Isadora Duncan circa 1918. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Isadora Duncan brought modern dance to the world, while living (and dying) with personal tragedy. More »
98
of 100
Ruler of Halicarnassus, Artemisia helped Xerxes defeat the Greeks and then helped talk him into abandoning the war against the Greeks. More »
97
of 100

Martha Graham

Martha Graham
Martha Graham. Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Martha Graham was a dancer and choreographer best known as a leader of the modern dance (expressionist) movement, expressing emotion through dance.
96
of 100
Angela Davis 1969
Angela Davis 1969. Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Her support for revolutionary black activist George Jackson led to her arrest as a conspirator in the abortive attempt to free Jackson from a Marin County, California, courtroom. Angela Davis was acquitted of all charges, and continues to teach and write about feminism, black issues and economics. More »
95
of 100

Golda Meir

Golda Meir 1973
Golda Meir 1973. PhotoQuest / Getty Images
Golda Meir, a labor activist, Zionist and politician, was the fourth prime minister of the State of Israel and second woman prime minister in the world. The Yom Kippur War, between Arabs and Israelis, was fought during her term as prime minister.
Elizabeth Blackwell, about 1850
Elizabeth Blackwell, about 1850. Museum of the City of New York/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the world to graduate from medical school. Blackwell was also a pioneer in the education of women in medicine. More »
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Gertrude Stein was a writer and associate of many of the 20th century's writers and artists. Her salon in Paris was a center of modern culture. She's known for her stream-of-consciousness style. More »
92
of 100

Caroline Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg) is a lawyer and writer, including a 1995 book on privacy. She values her own privacy and that of her family though she's been in the public eye since her father, John F. Kennedy, took office as President in 1961. She served in 2008 as head of the team to select a Vice President for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
91
of 100
Margaret Mead was an American anthropologist whose groundbreaking work, especially in Samoa in the 1920s, was attacked after her death as faulty. She emphasized cultural evolution and personal observation. More »
90
of 100
Jane Addams
Jane Addams. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
A pioneer in social work, Jane Addams founded Hull-House in the 19th century and led it well into the 20th. She was also active in peace and feminist work. More »
89
of 100
The sultry singer began at Harlem's Cotton Club and worked her way into the world's heart as she struggled to overcome the limitations placed on her career by racism. More »

After seeing the suffering caused by unwanted and unplanned pregnancies among the poor women she served as a nurse, Margaret Sanger took up a lifetime cause: the availability of birth control information and devices. More »

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the intellectual leader and strategist of the 19th century's women's rights movement, though her friend and lifelong partner in activism, Susan B. Anthony, was more of a public face to the movement. More »
86
of 100
Erma Bombeck's humor helped document the life of women in the 20th century as wives and mothers in suburban homes. More »
85
of 100
Calamity Jane was one of the best-known women of the American "Wild West." Scandalous enough as a woman who dressed as a man and was infamous for drinking and fighting, she embellished her life story considerably. More »
Charlotte Brontë was one of three brilliant sisters, writers of the 19th century, each of whom died early. Charlotte's best known work is the novel, Jane Eyre, which drew from her own experience as a student in an inhumane school and as a governess. More »
83
of 100

Muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell was one of the few women to succeed in that circle. She exposed the predatory pricing practices of John D. Rockefeller and her articles about his company helped bring the downfall of Standard Oil of New Jersey. More »

82
of 100
Hypatia is known as the ancient world's most famous woman mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer. Her enemy, Cyril, archbishop of Alexandria, may have called for her death. She was a pagan martyr, torn apart by a mob of Christian monks. More »
81
of 100
French novelist of the 20th century, Colette was noted for her unconventional themes and lifestyle. More »
80
of 100
1805: Sacajawea interprets Lewis and Clark's intentions to the Chinook Indians
1805: Sacajawea interprets Lewis and Clark's intentions to the Chinook Indians. MPI/Getty Images
Sacagawea [or Sacajawea] guided the Lewis and Clark expedition, not completely of her own volition. In 1999 her image was selected for the United States dollar coin. More »
79
of 100

Judy Collins

Part of the 1960s folk revival and still popular today, Judy Collins made history by singing in the Chicago 7 conspiracy trial.
78
of 100
Abigail Adams was the wife of the second U.S. president and mother of the sixth. Her intellect and lively wit come alive in her many letters which were preserved. More »
Margaret Thatcher was the first woman prime minister in Europe. She's also, to this date, the longest-serving British Prime Minister since 1827. Famous (or infamous) for her conservative politics, she also presided over the British re-taking of the Falkland Islands from Argentina. More »
76
of 100
Sally Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player, but she chose physics over sports and ended up the first American woman astronaut in space, a NASA planner, and a science professor. More »
75
of 100

Emily Brontë was the middle of the three famous novelist and poet sisters of the 19th century, with Charlotte Brontë and Anne Brontë. Emily Brontë is best remembered for her dark and unusual novel, Wuthering Heights. She's also credited as a major influence, in her poetry, on Emily Dickinson. More »

74
of 100
Hatshepsut reigned as Pharaoh of Egypt about 3500 years ago, taking on the titles, powers, and ceremonial clothing of a male ruler. Her successor tried to wipe her name and image from history; fortunately for our knowledge of this early woman leader, he did not entirely succeed. More »
73
of 100

Salome

Biblical character Salome is known for asking her stepfather Antipas for the head of John the Baptist, when he offered her a reward for her dancing at his birthday feast. Salome's mother, Herodias, had prearranged for this request with her daughter. Salome's story was adapted into a drama by Oscar Wilde and an opera by Richard Strauss, based on the Wilde drama. Another woman named Salome was present at the crucifixion of Jesus according to the Gospel of Mark.

72
of 100

Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi was the prime minister of India and a member of a prominent Indian political family. Her father and two of her sons were also Indian prime ministers.

71
of 100

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter was a fictional character based on the World War II civilian service on the homefront in the factory of many American women. She has come to represent all the industrial women workers in the war effort. After the war, many "Rosies" once again took up traditional domestic roles as housewives and mothers.
70
of 100
Mother Jones
Mother Jones. Courtesy Library of Congress
A labor organizer, Mother Jones was born in Ireland and didn't become active in labor causes until she was in her late 50s. She's best known for her support of mine workers in several key strikes. More »

Mary was the Queen of France (as a consort) and Queen of Scotland (in her own right); her marriages caused scandal and her Catholic religion and kinship with England's Queen Elizabeth I caused enough suspicion of her motives that Elizabeth had her executed. More »

68
of 100

Lady Godiva

Did Lady Godiva really ride naked on a horse through the streets of Coventry to protest a tax imposed by her husband?
Zora Neale Hurston was by profession an anthropologist and folklorist. Her novels, including Their Eyes Were Watching God, have enjoyed a revival in popularity since the 1970s thanks to the efforts of writer Alice Walker. More »
66
of 100

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni is an African American woman poet whose early work was influenced by the black power movement and whose later work reflects her experience as a single mother.
65
of 100
A rare woman among the Impressionist painters, Mary Cassatt focused often on themes of mothers and children. Her work gained in recognition after her death. More »
64
of 100
Julia Child is known as the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her popular books, television cooking shows and videos kept her in the public eye. Less well known: her brief spy career. More »
Barbara Walters is an award-winning journalist specializing in interviews. She was, at one time, the highest-paid woman news anchor. More »
Georgia O'Keeffe was an American painter of a unique style. In her later years she moved to New Mexico where she painted many desert scenes. More »
61
of 100

Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley the sharpshooter performed with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, at first with her husband Frank Butler and later as a solo act.

60
of 100

Willa Cather

Willa Sibert Cather, 1920s
Willa Sibert Cather, 1920s. Culture Club / Getty Images
Willa Cather, novelist, documented many periods of American culture, including the settling of the pioneer west.
Josephine Baker was an exotic dancer who found fame in Paris, helped with the Nazi resistance, was accused of communist sympathies, worked for racial equality, and died shortly after her 1970s comeback. More »
58
of 100
Janet Reno was the first woman to hold the office of U.S. Attorney General, she's remembered for her toughness and for several controversies during her tenure. More »
57
of 100
Emily Post first published her Etiquette book in 1922, and her family has continued her legacy of flexible, common sense advice on good manners. More »

Queen Isabella: but which Queen Isabella? Perhaps Net searchers were looking for Isabella of Castile, the erudite ruler who helped unite Spain, supported Columbus' voyage, drove the Jews from Spain and instituted the Spanish Inquisition? Were some looking for Isabella of France, queen consort of Edward II of England, who helped arrange his abdication and murder, then ruled with her lover as regent for her son? Or Isabella II of Spain, whose marriage and behavior helped stir up Europe's 19th century political turmoil? Or another Queen Isabella ...? More »

55
of 100

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was the first woman to earn a medical degree from the University of Rome, She applied learning methods she developed for mentally retarded children to children with intelligence in the normal range. The Montessori method, still popular today, is child-centered and experience-centered.
54
of 100

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn, a twentieth century film actress, often played strong women at a time when conventional wisdom said that traditional roles were all that would sell movie tickets.
Abraham Lincoln suggested that Harriet Beecher Stowe was the woman who started the Civil War. Her Uncle Tom's Cabin certainly stirred up a lot of anti-slavery sentiment! But she wrote on more subjects than abolitionism. More »
52
of 100
Ancient Greece's best known poet, Sappho is also known for the company she kept: mostly women. And for writing about her passionate relationships with women. She lived on the island of Lesbos -- is it fair to call her a lesbian? More »
Sojourner Truth was best known as an abolitionist but she was also a preacher and spoke for women's rights. She was one of the most in-demand speakers of the mid-19th century in America. More »
Catherine II of Russia
Catherine II of Russia. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Catherine the Great was the ruler of Russia after she had her husband deposed. She was responsible for the expansion of Russia into Central Europe and to the shores of the Black Sea. More »
49
of 100

Mary Shelley, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, eloped with the poet Percy Shelley, and later wrote the novel Frankenstein as part of a bet with Shelley and his friend George, Lord Byron. More »

48
of 100
Jane Goodall observed and documented the life of chimps in the wild from 1970 into the 1990s, and has tirelessly worked for the better treatment of chimpanzees. More »
47
of 100
Coco Chanel was one of the 20th century's best-known fashion designers. Her look helped define the 1920s and the 1950s. More »
46
of 100
The diaries of Anaïs Nin, first published in the 1960s when she was more than 60 years old, frankly discuss her life, her many loves and lovers, and her self-discovery quest. More »
Isabel Allende, a journalist, fled her country, Chile, when her uncle, the president, was assassinated. After leaving her homeland, she turned to writing novels that look at life -- especially women's lives -- with both mythology and realism. More »
44
of 100

Toni Morrison won the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, and is known for writing about the black woman's experience. More »

43
of 100
Even if Betsy Ross didn't make the first American flag (she may not have, despite the legend), her life and work shed light on the experience of women in colonial and revolutionary America. More »

Marie Antoinette, Queen Consort to Louis XVI of France, was unpopular with the French people, and ultimately was executed during the French Revolution. More »

41
of 100

Mata Hari

Mata Hari, one of history's most infamous spies, was executed in 1917 by the French for spying for the Germans. Was she guilty as charged?
Jacqueline Kennedy during her official visit to Paris 1961
Jacqueline Kennedy during her official visit to Paris 1961. RDA/Getty Images

Jackie Kennedy (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) first came to public attention as the fashionable and graceful wife of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States. She served as First Lady from 1961 until her husband's assassination in 1963, and she later married Aristotle Onassis. More »

Anne Bradstreet, colonial American woman, was America's first poet. Her experiences and writings allow insight into the experience of the early Puritans in New England. More »

Louisa May Alcott is best known as author of Little Women, and less well known for her service as a Civil War nurse and for her friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson. More »

37
of 100

Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty, known as a Southern writer, was a 6-time winner of the O. Henry Award for Short Stories. Her many awards include the National Medal for Literature, the American Book Award, and, in 1969, a Pulitzer Prize.

36
of 100

Molly Pitcher was the name given in several varying stories about women who fought in the American Revolution. Some of these stories may be based on events that happened to a Mary Hays McCauley who is most commonly associated with the name "Molly Pitcher", and some may be about a Margaret Corbin. (Molly was a common nickname for "Mary" which was itself a very common name of the time.) More »

35
of 100
Joan Baez, part of the 1960s folk revival, is also known for her advocacy of peace and human rights. More »
34
of 100
Senora Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, known as Eva Peron or Evita Peron, was an actress who married Argentian Juan Peron and helped him win the presidency, becoming active in politics and the labor movement herself. More »
33
of 100
"Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks" -- or did she? Lizzie Borden was accused (and acquitted) of the murders of her father and stepmother. More »
32
of 100
Michelle Kwan, a champion figure skater, is remembered by many for her Olympic performances, though the gold medal eluded her. More »
31
of 100

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan and nicknamed Lady Day) was a jazz singer who came from a tough past, and struggled against racial discrimination and her own addictions.
30
of 100
Alice Walker, 2005
Alice Walker, 2005, at opening of Broadway version of The Color Purple. Sylvain Gaboury/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Alice Walker, African American novelist and author of The Color Purple, as well as activist, depicted sexism, racism, and poverty that was met with the strengths of family, community, self-worth, and spirituality. More »

29
of 100

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, a prominent English writer of the early 20th century, wrote "A Room of One's Own," an essay asserting and defending women's creative potential.

28
of 100

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand, mother of objectivism, was, in the words of Scott McLemee, "the single most important novelist and philosopher of the 20th century. Or so she admitted with all due modesty, whenever the subject came up."
27
of 100

Clara Barton, a pioneering nurse who served as an administrator in the Civil War, and who helped identify missing soldiers at the end of the war, is credited as the founder of the American Red Cross. More »

26
of 100
Jane Fonda, an actress who was the daughter of actor Henry Fonda, has been at the center of controversy over her Vietnam-era anti-war activities. She was also central to the fitness craze of the 1970s, and has continued to speak against war. More »

Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was his "eyes and ears" when he could not travel freely due to his disability. Her positions on issues like civil rights were often ahead of her husband and the rest of the country. She was key in establishing the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. More »

Susan B. Anthony was the best-known of the "first wave" supporters of women's rights. Her long support of woman suffrage helped the movement succeed, though she did not live to see it successful. More »

Queen Victoria of Great Britain ruled at a time when her nation was a great empire, and her name was given to an entire age. More »
22
of 100

Queen Elizabeth

Which Queen Elizabeth? There's Queen Elizabeth I of England, or her much-later relative, Queen Elizabeth II. Then there's Queen Elizabeth also known as the Winter Queen -- and a whole lot of others.

Florence Nightingale practically invented the profession of nursing, and also brought sanitary conditions to soldiers in wars -- at a time when more soldiers typically died of disease than of injuries in battle. More »
20
of 100
Captain John Smith saved by Pocahontas
An image reflecting the story told by Captain John Smith of being saved from Powhatan's death sentence by Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas. Adapted from an image courtesy of US Library of Congress.

Pocahontas was a real person, not much like the Disney cartoon portrayal of her. Her role in the early English settlement of Virginia was key to survival of the colonists. Did she save John Smith? Maybe, maybe not. More »

Amelia Earhart, a pioneer aviator (aviatrix), set many records before her 1937 disappearance during an attempt to fly around the world. As a daring woman, she became an icon when the organized women's movement had virtually disappeared. More »
18
of 100
Marie Curie was the first well-known woman scientist in the modern world, and is known as the "mother of modern physics" for her research in radioactivity. She won two Nobel Prizes: for physics (1903) and chemistry (1911). More »
17
of 100

Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple Black was a child actress who charmed movie audiences. She later served as an ambassador.
16
of 100
Lucille Ball is best known for her television shows, but she also appeared in dozens of films, was a Ziegfeld Girl, and was a successful businesswoman -- the first woman to own a film studio. More »

Hillary Clinton, First Lady as wife to President Bill Clinton (1994-2001), was an attorney and reform advocate before moving to the White House. She then made history by being elected to the Senate and running for President herself -- barely missing getting the Democratic nomination in 2008, but celebrating "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling." More »

14
of 100

The story of Helen Keller has inspired millions: though she was deaf and blind after a childhood illness, with the support of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, she learned signing and Braille, graduated from Radcliffe, and helped change the world's perception of the disabled. More »

13
of 100

Rosa Parks is best known for her refusal to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and her subsequent arrest, which kicked off a bus boycott and accelerated the civil rights movement. More »

12
of 100
Maya Angelou, a poet and novelist, is known for her beautiful words and big heart. More »
Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad conductor during American slavery, was also a Civil War nurse and spy, and an advocate of civil rights and women's rights. More »
10
of 100
Frida Kahlo portraits
From the Frida Kahlo Retrospective at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany, April 30 - August 9, 2010. Getty Images / Sean Gallup
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter whose primitive-like style reflected Mexican folk culture, her own pain and suffering, both physical and emotional. More »
09
of 100

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, from Yugoslavia, decided early in her life that she had a religious vocation to serve the poor, and went to India to serve. She won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work. More »

08
of 100
Oprah Winfrey, talk show host, is also one of America's most successful business people, and a philanthropist. More »
07
of 100
Joan of Arc was burned at the stake afer she helped restore the King of France to his throne. She was later canonized. More »
Emily Dickinson, who published little during her lifetime and was a noted recluse, revolutionized poetry with her verse. More »
Diana, Princess of Wales -- known as Princess Diane -- captured hearts around the world with her fairy-tale romance, her marital struggles, and then her untimely death. More »
04
of 100

Anne Frank

Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl in the Netherlands, kept a diary during the time she and her family were hiding from the Nazis. She did not survive her time in a concentration camp, but her diary still speaks of hope in the midst of war and persecution.

03
of 100

Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, had infamous liaisons with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, while trying to keep Egypt out of Rome's clutches. She chose death rather than captivity when she lost this battle. More »

Marilyn Monroe, actress who was discovered while working in a World War II defense plant, epitomized a certain image for women in the 1940s and 1950s. More »

01
of 100
Madonna: Which one? The singer and sometimes actress -- and very successful self-promoter and businesswoman? The mother of Jesus? The image of Mary and other saintly mothers in medieval paintings? Yes, Madonna is the number one woman of history searched for year after year on the Net -- even if the searches are certainly for more than one woman. More »