Women Prime Ministers and Presidents: 20th Century

Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi, 1976
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

How many women have served as Presidents or Prime Ministers in the 20th century? Included are women leaders of countries both large and small. Many names will be familiar; some will be unfamiliar to all but a few readers. (Not included: women who became presidents or prime ministers after the year 2000.)

Varied Circumstances

Some were highly controversial; some were compromise candidates. Some presided over peace; others over war. Some were elected; some were appointed. Some served briefly; others were elected; one, though elected, was prevented from serving.

Many followed into office their fathers or husbands; others were elected or appointed on their own reputations and political contributions. One even followed her mother into politics, and her mother served a third term as prime minister, filling the office left vacant when the daughter took office as president.

Women Prime Minister and Presidents

  1. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
    Her daughter became president of Sri Lanka in 1994 and appointed her mother to the more ceremonial office of prime minister. The office of president was created in 1988 and given many of the powers the prime minister had had when Sirimavo Bandaranaike held the office.
    Prime Minister, 1960-1965, 1970-1977, 1994-2000. Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
  2. Indira Gandhi, India
    Prime Minister, 1966-77, 1980-1984. Indian National Congress.
  3. Golda Meir, Israel
    Prime Minister, 1969-1974. Labor Party.
  4. Isabel Martinez de Peron, Argentina
    President, 1974-1976. Justicialist.
  5. Elisabeth Domitien, Central African Republic
    Prime Minister, 1975-1976. Movement for the Social Evolution of Black Africa.
  6. Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain
    Prime Minister, 1979-1990. Conservative.
  7. Maria da Lourdes Pintasilgo, Portugal
    Prime Minister, 1979-1980. Socialist Party.
  8. Lidia Gueiler Tejada, Bolivia
    Prime Minister, 1979-1980. Revolutionary Left Front.
  9. Dame Eugenia Charles, Dominica
    Prime Minister, 1980-1995. Freedom Party.
  10. Vigdís Finnbogadóttír, Iceland
    President, 1980-96. Longest-serving female head of state in the 20th century.
  11. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway
    Prime Minister, 1981, 1986-1989, 1990-1996. Labour Party.
  12. Soong Ching-Ling, Peoples' Republic of China
    Honorary President, 1981. Communist Party.
  13. Milka Planinc, Yugoslavia
    Federal Prime Minister, 1982-1986. League of Communists.
  14. Agatha Barbara, Malta
    President, 1982-1987. Labour Party.
  15. Maria Liberia-Peters, Netherlands Antilles
    Prime Minister, 1984-1986, 1988-1993. National People's Party.
  16. Corazon Aquino, Philippines
    President, 1986-92. PDP-Laban. 
  17. Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan
    Prime Minister, 1988-1990, 1993-1996. Pakistan Peoples Party.
  18. Kazimiera Danuta Prunskiena, Lithuania
    Prime Minister, 1990-91. Peasant and Green Union.
  19. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Nicaragua
    Prime Minister, 1990-1996. National Opposition Union.
  20. Mary Robinson, Ireland
    President, 1990-1997. Independent.
  21. Ertha Pascal Trouillot, Haiti
    Interim President, 1990-1991. Independent.
  22. Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, German Democratic Republic
    President, 1990. Christian Democratic Union.
  23. Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma (Myanmar )
    Her party, the National League for Democracy, won 80% of the seats in a democratic election in 1990, but the military government refused to recognize the results. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
  24. Khaleda Zia, Bangladesh
    Prime Minister, 1991-1996. Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
  25. Edith Cresson, France
    Prime Minister, 1991-1992. Socialist Party.
  26. Hanna Suchocka, Poland
    Prime Minister, 1992-1993. Democratic Union.
  27. Kim Campbell, Canada
    Prime Minister, 1993. Progressive Conservative.
  28. Sylvie Kinigi, Burundi
    Prime Minister, 1993-1994. Union for National Progress.
  29. Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Rwanda
    Prime Minister, 1993-1994. Republican Democratic Movement.
  30. Susanne Camelia-Romer, Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao)
    Prime Minister, 1993, 1998-1999. PNP.
  31. Tansu Çiller, Turkey
    Prime Minister, 1993-1995. Democrat Party.
  32. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, Sri Lanka
    Prime Minister, 1994, President, 1994-2005
  33. Reneta Indzhova, Bulgaria
    Interim Prime Minister, 1994-1995. Independent.
  34. Claudette Werleigh, Haiti
    Prime Minister, 1995-1996. PANPRA.
  35. Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh
    Prime Minister, 1996-2001, 2009-. Awami League.
  36. Mary McAleese, Ireland
    President, 1997-2011. Fianna Fail, Independent.
  37. Pamela Gordon, Bermuda
    Premier, 1997-1998. United Bermuda Party.
  38. Janet Jagan, Guyana
    Prime Minister, 1997, President, 1997-1999. People's Progressive Party.
  39. Jenny Shipley, New Zealand
    Prime Minister, 1997-1999. National Party.
  40. Ruth Dreifuss, Switzerland
    President, 1999-2000. Social Democratic Party.
  41. Jennifer M. Smith, Bermuda
    Prime Minister, 1998-2003. Progressive Labour Party.
  42. Nyam-Osoriyn Tuyaa, Mongolia
    Acting Prime Minister, July 1999. Democratic Party.
  43. Helen Clark, New Zealand
    Prime Minister, 1999-2008. Labour Party.
  44. Mireya Elisa Moscoso de Arias, Panama
    President, 1999-2004. Arnulfista Party.
  45. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Latvia
    President, 1999-2007. Independent.
  46. Tarja Kaarina Halonen, Finland
    President, 2000-. Social Democratic Party.

I've included Halonen because the year 2000 is part of the 20th century. (The year "0" didn't exist, so a century starts with the year "1.")

21st-Century Women Leaders

As the 21st century arrived, yet another was added: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - President of the Philippines, sworn in on January 20, 2001. Mame Madior Boye became Prime Minister in Senegal in March of 2001. Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of founding head of state Sukarno, was selected as Indonesia's fifth president in 2001 after losing in 1999. I've limited the list above, however, to the history of women heads of state for the 20th century, and will not add anyone who took office after 2001 began.

Text © Jone Johnson Lewis.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women Prime Ministers and Presidents: 20th Century." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/women-prime-ministers-presidents-20th-century-3530291. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Women Prime Ministers and Presidents: 20th Century. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/women-prime-ministers-presidents-20th-century-3530291 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women Prime Ministers and Presidents: 20th Century." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/women-prime-ministers-presidents-20th-century-3530291 (accessed June 9, 2023).