In times when feminism is changing the role of women in society, it is worth looking back and knowing a little more about the trajectories of those who paved the way with deeds that marked the history of humanity.
But beyond their achievements, the lives of these women are filled with curiosities that many people do not know.
1 – Cleopatra: to be in power, married two of her brothers
Lived from 69 BC (Alexandria, Egypt) to August 12, 30 BC (Alexandria, Egypt)
One of the first women to gain historical projection, to the point of being present to this day in the minds of much of the world’s population, was the most famous queen of Egypt.
However, her love life was quite peculiar. To take over the country at age 18, she married her brother Ptolemy XIII, who was then 15 years old. Marriage between brothers was customary at the time. Considered a strong leader of good diplomacy, she was persecuted for her approach to Rome and was forced to flee.
That was when Cleopatra fell in love with Julius Caesar, the Roman politician. With her support, she defeated her brother and returned to Egypt. To return to power, she had to remarry another younger brother, Ptolemy XIV, who had been proclaimed Pharaoh. Her troubled love life accompanied her entire trajectory in power.
After the death of her second husband and lover Julius Caesar, the queen fell in love with Mark Antony, ruler of eastern Rome. However, the relationship was seen as a threat to Rome. After a period of war and persecution, Mark Antony killed himself with his own sword. As for Cleopatra, the cause of her death is still a mystery. Legend says that, after being captured by the Roman soldiers, she would have committed suicide by being bitten by a snake. But more recent studies indicate that she probably died after ingesting poison.
2 – Joan of Arc: the warrior who did not fight in battles
Lived from January 6, 1412 (Domrémy, France) to May 30, 1431 (Rouen, France)
The saint of the Catholic Church is one of the most documented women in world history for her role as a warrior in the name of France. Much of this is due to the fact that the heroine was commander of the French army during the Hundred Years War against England.
However, despite being remembered as a strong and fearless combatant, Joan never fought in battle and never killed anyone. The young woman’s real role was much more strategic. She led the troops, proposed compromise with enemies, and inspired her soldiers with a flag of France throughout every battle.
When she was arrested by the English, Joan was convicted of countless crimes, not just witchcraft. These include crimes of heresy, wearing men’s clothing, and claiming to hear voices and to communicate directly with God.
3 – Elizabeth I: conquered the throne after being arrested for conspiracy
Lived from September 7, 1533 (London, England) to March 24, 1603 (London, England)
The so-called Virgin Queen led England and Ireland from 1558 until her death. Respected and celebrated for her military achievements, her trajectory in power was not at all simple. Elizabeth was the third person in the royal succession. When her sister Mary became queen, Elizabeth was sent to prison for a phase of her life on suspicion of plotting against the queen.
After the death of her brothers, Edward and Mary, she was finally able to take over the English throne. Elizabeth was the only English queen who never married. She turned down a marriage offer from powerful monarchs and kept a secret love for a childhood friend, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
When the English parliament tried to force her to agree to marry some monarch from another country, the queen was firm in her refusal. Elizabeth said she was married to her country and had no intention of marrying any man.
Despite having scars and baldness, the consequences of contracting smallpox in an outbreak in the 1560s, she always appeared in public very well dressed and with a lot of makeup. Her public image and vast wardrobe have made her an icon of high fashion to this day.
4 – Jane Austen
Lived December 16, 1775 (Steventon, United Kingdom) to July 18, 1817 (Winchester, United Kingdom)
The greatest female name in English literature had already shown her aptitude and talent for writing from a young age, when she entertained her family with her tales and stories. Daughter of a reverend, Jane was raised to be a good wife, but never married.
She devoted her life to writing and her works gained prominence for the complex family plots and high content of irony and romance. Austen depended financially on her family until she was 36, when her book Reason and Sensitivity was published under a pseudonym and she began to make money.
Today, her books have become international bestsellers and her works have been widely explored by Hollywood and the dramaturgy industry around the world. Despite Jane’s historical importance, there is not even a photograph that depicts Jane’s image. What exists is a drawing, whose sketch was made by her sister Cassandra, which contains the image of the writer. Today, the painting is on display at the National Art Gallery in London.
5 – Marie Curie: The First Person in the World to Win Two Nobel Prizes
Lived from November 7, 1867 (Warsaw, Poland) to July 4, 1934 (Sancellemoz, France)
One of the most important scientists that the world has ever seen, was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person in the world to win the prize twice, first in Physics and then in the Chemistry category. But her achievements go far beyond that.
Marie Curie had to work twice as hard to get a college education, as most institutions did not accept women. She was the first woman to win the PhD title at the traditional Sorbonne and also the first to teach at the renowned University of Paris.
Next to her husband, French physicist Pierre Curie, she discovered the polonium chemical elements and the radio. Following the death of her husband, Marie developed a portable x-ray machine to serve soldiers fighting in World War I.
It was radiation exposure that caused her death from aplastic anemia. Her notebooks, used for important research notes, still contain remnants of radioactive material and are stored in a lead boxes and so should remain for another 1500 years.
6 – Gertrude Ederle: the woman who broke the record of five male swimmers
Lived October 23, 1905 (New York, USA) to November 30, 2003 (New Jersey, USA)
She was a swimming champion in her teens and competed in the 1924 Olympics. But her greatest achievement came in 1926, at age 19, when Gertrude became the first woman to cross the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean area that separates England from France. The conquest had previously been made by only five men.
The young girl completed the course in 14 hours and 31 minutes, breaking the previous record of 16 hours and 33 minutes, won by Argentine Enrique Tirabocchi in 1923. At the end of the course, Gertrude was greeted by a huge crowd and was called by the media the Queen of the Waves.
Ten years after her big achievement, she suffered a fall that resulted in a serious back injury so she could not compete again. With a hearing compromised by childhood measles, Ederle devoted her time teaching swimming at a school for deaf children in Lexington, United States.
7 – Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Life in Misery to Help the Needy
Lived August 26, 1910 (Skopje, Northern Macedonia) to September 5, 1997 (Kolkata, India)
Her baptismal name is Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, but the spiritual call that came as a teenager made her adopt the name Teresa in honor of the holy Teresa of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila. Her example of life meant that in 2016 she was canonized and declared holy by the Catholic Church.
At 18, Teresa traveled to India as a missionary, where she worked tirelessly for the poor. After that, he never met her mother and brothers again. There, Sister Teresa settled in Calcutta and began teaching geography and history.
To be by the side of those most in need, she herself starved and lived in misery. In 1950, Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity group, which today has over 5,000 people around the world.
Her vast work in teaching, sanitation, hygiene, caring for the sick, opening hospitals and homes for orphaned children earned her the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. One thousand dollars was converted to aid for the poor in India.
8 – Rosa Parks: Your Act culminated in the Civil Rights Movement
Lived February 4, 1913 (Alabama, USA) to October 24, 2005 (Michigan, USA)
This civil rights activist has left her name in history for a significant gesture in the struggle for racial equality. In 1955, she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in the city of Montgomery, Alabama.
Their initiative gained notoriety and culminated in the Civil Rights Movement to end racial segregation. But Parks’s life has other notable achievements to remember. Although she dropped out of school to care for her sick grandmother, at age 19 she resumed her studies and managed to graduate when only 7% of blacks were able to do so.
As a political activist, she was arrested again alongside 114 other people while participating in a boycott movement to segregate buses. After losing her job and being threatened with death, Rosa and her husband moved to Detroit, where they worked on causes for racial equality for the rest of their lives.
In 1987, they founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Self-Development Institute, a youth-oriented civil rights organization. When Rosa died, her funeral received over 30,000 people, with honors reserved only for statesmen and military personnel.
9 – Anne Frank spent two years in a hiding place with her family.
Lived June 12, 1929 (Frankfurt, Germany) to February 1945 (Bergen-Belsen, Germany)
Anne Frank’s Diary was written by the 13-year-old as she and her family fled Nazism. The most famous diary published in the history of literature has sold over 30 million copies and won versions in 67 different languages.
Annelies Marie Frank on her 13th birthday had a notebook for a gift, just before the family had to hide to escape the Nazi persecution. In July 1942, after her older sister was summoned to work in a German labor camp, they all hid in a refuge behind her father’s office.
In the 2 years and 35 days spent there, the young woman – who wanted to become a writer – reported details of the family’s routine in hiding, her main fears and greatest yearnings. In August 1944, after an anonymous denunciation, Anne’s family and others in the same hiding place were arrested.
The young woman died of typhus after being sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. It was Anne’s father, Otto, the only survivor of the family, who collected all the material written by his daughter and authorized its publication in 1947.
10 – Princess Diana: A Life of Sadness and Loneliness within the English Monarchy
Lived from July 1, 1961 (Sandringham, United Kingdom) to August 31, 1997 (Paris, France)
Fourth of 5 children, little Diana saw her parents divorce when she was just 7 years old and was educated at home until she was 9 years old. During her youth, she worked as a nanny and teacher before meeting Prince Charles, who would later become her husband, a fact that gave her the title of Princess of Wales.
However, the royal couple did not live a successful union. Before marrying in 1981, Charles and Diana had only met 12 times. Throughout her life, Lady Di, as she was called, recorded on cassette tapes in which she spoke of her unhappiness, her husband’s unfaithfulness, her eating disorders, and suicide attempts.
Throughout her public life, Diana devoted herself to philanthropy. She embraced the cause of people with HIV and worked to end the prejudice that HIV-positive people suffered. She also participated in the International Campaign for the Elimination of Landmines, a project that won the Nobel Peace Prize.
11 – Malala Yousafzai: The young woman the Taliban could not silence
Born July 12, 1997 (Mingora, Pakistan) and is now 21
She was just a girl who wanted to defend the right of young Pakistani girls to go to school. However, the blog on which she expounded on her ideas and public statements gained widespread repercussions, prompting Taliban members to attempt to murder her in a school bus. Malala was 15 years old, shot 3 times and survived.
The attack did not stop Malala. On the contrary. Just two years after that, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her role as a human rights activist, as well as 40 other awards and honors. At 18, she founded a school for young refugees from Syria.
Considered by Times magazine to be one of the 100 most influential people in the world, the young Pakistani woman won the UN title of Messenger of Peace. Malala currently lives in the United Kingdom, where she studies philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University and intends to pursue a political career in Pakistan.