10 trailblazing women who changed history - who you’ve probably never heard of

Have many of them do you know?

To celebrate Women's History Month, we've compiled a list of iconic and inspirational women from around the world who have changed history. From undercover spies and suffragists to modern day activists and leading scientists, these women have broken barriers, defied conventions and helped pave the way for women of today. But how many of these trailblazing women have you heard of?

Eufrosina Cruz | Activist and Politician

A Zapotec woman from a remote Oaxaca village, Eufrosina Cruz has dedicated her life to championing gender equality and the rights of Indigenous women and communities. She became the first ever Indigenous woman to be elected president of the state congress in 2007.

Despite being told women "could only make tortillas and children,” Cruz showed the whole world that there is nothing that the strong, Indigenous women of Mexico cannot do.
Illustrated by Paola Rollo

Kate Sheppard | Suffragette

You'll no doubt know of Emmeline Pankhurst, but have you heard of New Zealand's most famous suffragist, Kate Sheppard?

Thanks to Sheppard's tireless advocacyfor women's freedom and the right to vote, the world's longest petition ever - with more than 30,000 signatures! -  was presented to the country's parliament. As a result, New Zealand became the first country in the world where women gained the right to vote in 1893.
Illustrated by Malin Rosenqvist

Mae C. Jemison | Astronaut and Doctor

As a doctor, engineer, scientist and NASA astronaut, Mae C. Jemison has always reached for the stars. In 1992, on board the space shuttle Endeavour, she became the first Black woman in space.

After serving as an astronaut for six years, Jemison went on to become the founder of various companies, including the Jemison Group, a company that develops and markets advanced technologies.
Illustrated by Alexandra Bowman

Madam C.J. Walker | Businesswoman

Meet Madam C.J. Walker, America's first self-made female millionaire. During the early 1900s, Walker began to build her business empire around homemade hair care products for Black women after her own experience with hair loss.

Walker's beauty products and her knack for growing a business became well known all over the world, and her success encouraged countless other women to create their own companies.
Illustrated by Cristina Spanò

Nettie Stevens | Geneticist

For almost 2,000 years humans wondered what makes someone male or female. Doctors, scientists, and philosophers from all over the world invented all sorts of theories to explain it but the answer remained mysterious. Until Nettie Stevens came along and figured out the science happening inside cells.

Through studying mealworms, Stevens made the ground-breaking discovery in 1905 that it all came down to X and Y chromosomes.
Illustrated by Barbara Dziadosz

Maryam Mirzakhani | Mathematician

When Mirzakhani was just a teenager, she found great joy in discovering simple, elegant solutions to complicated mathematical problems, so much so that she won consecutive gold medals in the 1994 and 1995 International Mathematical Olympiads for high-school students.

Mirzakhani became the first Iranian, and the first woman in history, to win the Fields Medal in 2014, which is regarded as one of highest honors a mathematician can receive.
Illustrated by Giorgia Marras

Noor Inayat Khan | Spy

An Indian princess turned World War Two undercover British spy, Noor Inayat Khan served as a Secret Operations Executive. Due to her unwavering commitment, Khan became the first female radio operator to be dropped into occupied France in 1943 to help the Resistance and send messages back to Britain.

Khan gave her life fighting for freedom and was awarded the George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre after her death - the highest award for bravery outside of combat.
Illustrated by Yevhenia Haidamaka

Wangari Maathai | Activist

Born in Kenya, Maathai founded The Green Belt Movement in 1977 - an environmental organization dedicated to "building climate resilience and empowering communities, especially women and girls, to foster more democratic space and sustainable livelihoods." (Source: The Green Belt Movement, 2024.)

To-date, more than 50 million trees have been planted thanks to The Green Belt Movement. Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her work, making her the first ever African woman to win the award.
Illustrated by Thandiwe Tshabalala

Keiko Fukuda | Judoka

As a girl growing up in Japan, Keiko Fukuda studied calligraphy, flower arranging, and tea ceremony, but she yearned to follow in her grandfather's footsteps and learn judo. 

Fukuda defied expectations and rose to become the highest-ranking female judoka in the world, and in history! In 2011, she was awarded her tenth-degree black belt by USA Judo at the incredible age of ninety-eight.
Illustrated by Helen Li

Lilian Bland | Aviator

You've no doubt heard of Amelia Earhart, the world's first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, but have you heard of Lilian Bland, the first woman in the world to design, build, and fly her own aircraft?

In 1910, an era that stifled women, Bland defied expectations and convention and soared to new heights. She named her aircraft The Mayfly, because, as she so fittingly said, "It may fly, or it may not."

Discover more inspiring women and empowering stories within the pages of Rebel Girls award-winning books and at rebelgirls.com.
Illustrated by Noa Snir

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