Looking for a new female role model? There are plenty to uriehoose from on this list of facts about 38 totally badass women! Spies, scientists, artists, and rulers, these women are sure to inspire awesomeness!
Mae West Facts
38. Blonde Ambition
Mae West was 38 when she was offered a contract by paramount Pictures in 1932, and by 1935 she was the second-highest paid person in America. Mae, who once quipped, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough,” had enough success to last several lifetimes. In addition to being a superstar actress, she wrote nine of her 13 films, and is known equally for her bon mots and intelligence as she is for her buxom beauty.
37. Nickel And Dimed
Barbara Ehrenreich was already a prominent writer when she went undercover for three months as a waitress for her ground-breaking memoir Nickel And Dimed, which looked at the experience of living on minimum wage.
36. Queen Bey
Does Beyonce even need an introduction? Multidisciplinary artist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, fashion designer, and feminist icon Beyonce Knowles is a multi-platinum recording artist and the first woman to ever win six Grammys in a single night.
35. Rocket Woman
In 1983, physicist and astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space. Since her death in 2012, she has become a LGBTQ icon after her relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy was revealed, making her not only the first American woman but also the first LGBT astronaut. Ride was a vocal advocate for encouraging young girls’ interest in science.
34. First Lady
She’s the longest-serving First Lady in the history of the United States, but Eleanor Roosevelt did more than just support her husband during his four terms as President. She wrote a newspaper column for 27 years and was an advocate for civil rights, defying segregation laws in 1938 by ignoring a “whites-only” sign and sitting beside an African-American associate.
Oprah was fired from her first television job in Baltimore, but she didn’t let that deter her from going on to dominate the talk-show field for 25 years. She ultimately became the first Black female billionaire and the world’s richest African-American woman.
32. Young Activist
Malala Yousafzai was a vocal advocate for girls going to school in Pakistan before the Taliban shot her in the head in an attempt to silence her. Needless to say, she survived. She’s since become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and continues to advocate for girls’ education all over the world.
31. 9 to 5
More than just a head of blonde hair and a beautiful singing voice, in 1995 Dolly Parton founded the Imagination Library, a charity devoted to championing literacy for children. Dollywood, her amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, also provides more than 3,000 jobs and is the largest employer in the county.
30. Screen Siren
Known for being a silver screen siren, Hedy Lamarr has recently been embraced as a female innovator for inventing an encrypted wireless communication system with composer George Antheil. They jointly applied for a patent in 1942, but their technology has made modern day technology like Wi-Fi, GPS, and cell phones possible.
29. A Beautiful Mind
Though she’s often called the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace lived almost 100 years before the first “computer” was even built. A brilliant mathematician, she wrote the world’s first algorithm for a computing machine and predicted that someday computers would be used for composing music and producing graphics.
28. Actress & Advocate
Actress, advocate, and all-around bombshell Laverne Cox made history as the first trans person to be nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Sophia Burset on Orange Is The New Black. Cox’s passion for acting is matched by her passion as an advocate for equality for all.
27. Notorious RBG
The second-ever woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first Jewish female Supreme Court Justice in 1993. She attended Harvard Law where she was one of only nine women in a class of 500—and graduated despite caring for her 14-month-old baby while she was in school.
26. Prima Ballerina
Misty Copeland made history in 2015 when she became the first African-American female Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre in the organization’s 75 years. She’s faced racism and criticism for her strong legs and core in a field where convention favors dancers with extremely thin limbs and fair skin. Copeland’s innate talent as a dancer has brought her much success; in 2015 she was named Glamour’s “Woman Of The Year” as well as one of ESPN’s “Impact 25” athletes who have had the greatest impact for women in sports.
25. Telling It Like It Is
Brash, crass, and outspoken Margaret Cho takes no guff when it comes to the racism and sexism she has faced as a female stand-up comic and Asian woman. She was the star of All-American Girl, widely credited as the first network TV series heavily featuring an Asian-American family. Cho is a bit of a Renaissance woman: she’s also distinguished as a singer-songwriter, fashion designer, and author.
24. Standing Up By Sitting Down
In an instant, Rosa Parks went from seamstress to civil rights icon in the eyes of world when she sparked a wave of protest after refusing to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. In reality, Parks had been an activist since the 1930s and remained so until her death in 2005. She wrote four books and held more than 43 honorary doctorate degrees from all over the world.
23. No Longer Caged
Memoirist, poet, civil rights activist: Maya Angelou broke boundaries by becoming one of the first African-American women to write openly and publicly about her private life. Since publishing I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in 1969, she has forged new space for black feminist writing, and has even influenced hip-hop artists like Nicki Minaj and Tupac Shakur.
22. Flying High
Amelia Earhart received the Distinguished Flying Cross medal for becoming the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. An early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, Earhart helped found the Ninety-Nines, an organization of female pilots. Her ambition came at cost, however: Earhart disappeared during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937.
21. Leader Of The Free World
In 2005, Angela Merkel was elected as Chancellor of Germany, making her the first woman to ever hold that position. She was chosen as “Person Of The Year” in 2015 by Time magazine, who called her “the most powerful woman in the world.”
20. Atomic Achiever
Marie Curie was a Polish physicist and chemist who, with her husband, discovered the elements polonium and radium. She became the first person ever to win two Nobel Prizes, the first with her husband (and a colleague) for Physics in 1903, and on her own for Chemistry in 1911.
19. Visions From God
Saint or heretic, Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) was only 19 when she was burned at the stake for her role as military leader in the Hundred Years War. After receiving what she believed were visions from God, she cut her hair short and dressed as a man in order to travel among men unnoticed, and ended up leading the French army to victory in the battles of Orleans and Rheims.
18. Black Power
Educator, activist, and all-around badass Angela Davis joined the Black Panthers and an all-black branch of the Communist party in her youth, which influenced her politics for the rest of her life. Davis served 18 months in jail in the early 1970s for aiding the escape of a fellow Black Panther, but since her acquittal she has become a professor at the University of California and has authored several books on race, feminism, and the prison system.
17. The Czarina
Catherine The Great ruled Russia for 34 years, and is the longest-serving female leader of that country. She married Peter III, but her reign was punctuated by her many love affairs and unusual personal habits, as well as many unsuccessful coups against her. She is still renowned in Russia as a charismatic leader, scholar, and a collector of fine art. She is also known for constructing the Winter Palace (also known as the Hermitage), which up until recently was the largest art museum in the world.
16. The Running Woman
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer entered the Boston Marathon five years before women were officially allowed to run the race. During the race, Switzer was chased by a man trying to tear her race number bib off. She finished the race in four hours and 20 minutes, becoming the first woman in America to run in an official marathon race.
15. Monkey Business
Jane Goodall was only 26 years old when she stepped into what is now Gombe Stream National Park and launched her career as a primatologist and preservationist. Her love of chimpanzees and other primates has driven her career—even today she travels over 300 days per year on the quest of protecting primates and their habitat.
14. We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, novelist, writer, and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient is one literary badass. Born in Nigeria, she’s studied at Princeton, Yale, and Harvard. In addition to writing several successful novels, her 2014 book We Should All Be Feminists was chosen to be distributed to every 16 year old in Sweden in 2015.
13. Second Wave
Journalist and social activist Gloria Steinem became the spokeswoman for the American feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s. Since then she has been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ and Trans rights.
12. National Explorer
Lewis and Clark have long been celebrated for their exploration of America, but it’s only in recent years that Sacagawea has been getting credit for her role in the history of the nation. A bilingual Shoshone woman, she served as a guide and translator. Not only was she invaluable to Lewis and Clark’s expedition, she did it while caring for her two-month-old baby, who she brought with her on the voyage!
11. Out & Proud
She may be known as the dancing daytime talk show host, but Ellen Degeneres deserves some serious props for her bravery and openness. In 1997, three years into starring in a popular sitcom, she came out as a lesbian on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The character she played on her eponymous sitcom also came out, making her the first openly lesbian actress to play an openly lesbian character on network television. Degeneres risked alienating less progressive audiences and risking her career at the height of her fame. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
10. Late Bloomer
As a divorced mother raising her child on her own, living on state benefits, JK Rowling defied the odds by publishing her first novel at age 32. Then unknown as an author, Bloomsbury took a chance on her and published 1,000 copies of her debut novel. That book was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which spawned a franchise that grew to include seven books and eight films. Rowling is an outspoken philanthropist advocate for anti-poverty and children’s welfare causes.
9. Punk Poet
Poet, singer, songwriter, artist, and author Patti Smith is a true Renaissance woman. Her albums Easter and Horses have influenced some of America’s greatest songwriters, such as Michael Stipe. She won the National Book Award in 2010 for her memoir Just Kids.
8. Literary Trailblazer
Born sometime around 1640, Aphra Behn had lived quite an exciting life as a spy working for King Charles II. When her husband died, she found herself penniless, so she turned to writing plays, making her one of the first women in Western history to make her living at writing. Known for her plays, poetry, and novels, Behn broke barriers and inspired generations of women to become writers.
Scene of a play
7. It Girl
At age 13, Tavi Gevinson was an internationally recognized fashion blogger, travelling all over the world and sitting in the front row at fashion shows. In 2011, she broadened her focus and co-founded Rookie Magazine, an online publication devoted to issues affecting teen girls, often written by teens.
6. Walk Like An Egyptian
Hatshepsut ruled Ancient Egypt for over 20 years, and was one of Egypt’s most successful female pharaohs. During her reign, she was more interested in economic development and the restoration of monuments than in conquering new lands, and as a result Egypt prospered. After her death, a male heir attempted to erase Hatshepsut’s name from many monuments, but in recent years she has been rediscovered and embraced as an ancient feminist hero.
5. King is Queen
Billie Jean King, tennis superstar, famously won the “Battle Of The Sexes” against Bobby Riggs in 1973. After being outed in 1981, she became one of the first openly gay female athletes in America.
4. Silent Spring
Rachel Carson is credited as the mother of the modern environmental movement for her groundbreaking and influential book Silent Spring, first published in 1962. Carson, an ecologist and chemist, wrote about the use of the pesticide DDT and its effect on the environment, which lead to news reports and laws being passed.
3. Tinker, Tailor, Dancer, Spy
Margaretha MacLeod, better known as Mata Hari, achieved notoriety as an exotic dancer and courtesan in Paris in the early 1900s. She posing as a dancer of Indian descent and danced provocatively, often in the nude. This would have been scandalous enough for her time, but she was unmasked as living yet another duplicitous life as a German spy! Mata Hari was executed for treason in France in 1917.
2. Lady With The Lamp
Known as the “Lady With The Lamp” for her pioneering nursing care of soldiers in the Crimean war, Florence Nightingale worked to revolutionize sanitary care in the field of nursing. She turned down a marriage proposal from a rich gentleman at a young age, and instead asserted her independence by organizing a corp of nurses to work in Crimea, where she implemented sanitation measures that greatly improved the science and treatment of infectious disease.
1. Ready For Her Close Up
The history of cinema would be a lot different without Alice Guy-Blaché, who in 1896 became the first ever female film director—at only 23! Guy-Blaché made the first narrative film in history, filmed one of the first close-ups, and invented the concept of filming on location. Though she made over 1000 films in her lifetime, she died in relative anonymnity.