Women — young and old and somewhere in between — have shaped and molded our history since the beginning of time. And not by being “behind a powerful man,” but by being the courageous, brave, loving, kind, leaders that our world needed in their time. Women across the world, pioneers in their fields of science, medicine, education, leadership, humanitarianism, civil rights, art, poetry, and so much more, prove daily that it doesn’t matter your race, age, language, education, or where you come from in order to make a difference in this world.
Our human history is rife with wars, battles, politics, natural disasters, pandemics, and twists and turns that Hollywood script writers are still trying to bottle up so they can market it. And yes, there is hatred, prejudice, and injustice. But where there is hatred, we see clearly where there is love. Where there is prejudice, we see clearly where there is forgiveness. And where there is injustice, we see clearly those who have the courage to stand up for what is right despite adversity.
Here are 11 highly inspirational quotes from some of the most influential women in our world’s history.
"I raise up my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard."
Malala Yousafzai is the incredibly courageous young Pakistani activist who made a bold stance for women’s rights to education against the Taliban and was shot for her outspokenness. It did not stop her. On her 16th birthday, nine months after she was shot, she gave a speech to the United Nations about the importance of education. Malala graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics only three short months ago.
"At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can."
Frida Kahlo, was a 20th century Mexican painter, feminist, and activist who at first was known for being married to her famous painter husband, Diego Rivera, but is now considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists. Kahlo was unapologetic in who she was. Her paintings, particularly her self portraits, continue to resonate with people as they portray raw emotions, furious passion, and heart-breaking realism that many can relate to in their own lives.
"Have no fear of perfection; you'll never reach it."
Have you ever had an x-ray? Then you can thank Marie Curie. Despite having to seek out alternative means of education because higher education was still illegal for women, Curie was a physicist, chemist, and a pioneer in the study of radiation (a word which she actually invented). Because of her work, two more elements were added to the Periodic Table: polonium and radium. She is also the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in two separate sciences: Physics (1903) and Chemistry (1911).
"You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist."
Considered the fierce Iron Lady of India, Indira Ghandi was the first female prime minister of India known for her nationalization of banks and her green revolution plan that reinvented farming in India. Under her leadership, India was ushered into a time of household savings and wealth as well as industry and agricultural advancement. She was assassinated by her own bodyguards in 1984 after sending troops to protect a temple overrun by extremists where many people were killed.
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity.”
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to cross the Atlantic, not only as a passenger, but as a solo pilot as well. She is famous for also saying: “I chose to fly the Atlantic because I wanted to. It was, in a measure, a self-justification — a proving to me, and to anyone else interested, that a woman with adequate experience could do it.” Her journey inspired women everywhere (and still inspires them) that they were just as capable as men. Amelia attempted to circumnavigate the globe along the equatorial line (which is the longest route), but she went missing. Scientists have now stated they believe that bones found on Nikumaroro Island belonged to Earhart.
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
Coco Chanel revolutionized the fashion industry by liberating women with fashion. She designed hats, clothing, and accessories that inspired and uplifted women to live freely, be comfortable, and allowed them to just be women. Her work also proved to men that women were more than just housewives. Her legacy lives on today in some of fashion’s most iconic pieces like the little black dress — which, come on, every woman owns.
"It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody."
One of the greatest poets to have ever lived, Maya Angelou expresses her vulnerability with brilliance and authenticity in every poem and autobiography she writes. Raw, powerful words, like in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, flow together in perfect synchronicity and are felt viscerally. Her life was not easy. She faced hardship after hardship from the time she was a child: sexual abuse, physical abuse, and racism to name a few. She once wrote, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” And perhaps greatest of all, through her words she taught those that would listen, that the act of forgiveness was a gift to yourself. Not your abuser or oppressor. But it freed you from the bitterness that their behavior can inflict on you.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Anne Frank is the 12-year-old girl who wrote a diary that changed the world. German by birth, she and her family were living in Amsterdam when they were forced to go into hiding during World War II, when the Nazis were persecuting Jews. During that time, Anne kept a diary to document what was happening during one of the most inhumane moments of our world’s history. They hid in a minuscule apartment for two years before they were discovered and sent to a concentration camp. Only Anne’s father survived, and when he returned, he found his daughter’s diary amidst the rubble from the raid. It was full of passion, love, hope, desire, fear, and strength. He published the diary and it has since been translated into over 70 languages and continues to inspire people young and old.
“I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
Rosa Parks, famously known as the African-American woman who refused to give up her seat for a white passenger during the Civil Rights Movement in America, was a person who knew who she was and respected herself enough that she was not willing to reduce herself just because others treated her less. Her refusal to give up her seat sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days, crippled the city’s transit system, and was the impetus for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the segregational ‘Jim Crow laws’ as unconstitutional. Her defiance helped spark a movement for equal rights for all people in the United States. A fight, unfortunately, many are still fighting to this day.
"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples."
Mother Teresa was an Albanian nun whose humanitarian accomplishments are recognized by all religions. She founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, an organization of women who devoted their lives to aid the unwanted, unloved, uncared for, and the poorest and sickest of the world’s population. The Order is now established in 123 countries around the world. She helped establish hospices, orphanages, a leper colony, a nursing home, and healthcare clinics before secretly traveling to Lebanon, where she crossed between Christian East Beirut and Muslim West Beirut to aid the city’s children of both faiths. She also opened an American house of charity in New York City and established the first home to house those infected with HIV/AIDS. She was canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.
"The very first requirement in a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm."
Florence Nightingale defied her parents to become a nurse, and the world is indebted to that stubbornness. Often called the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ because of her carrying a lamp through the night as she attended the sick and dying on the front during the Crimean War, Nightingale is responsible for pioneering reforms to improve nursing in military hospitals. One of the first women to ever go to the front as a nurse, she wrote and published her book, Notes on Nursing, which is still in circulation today, and she is considered the founder of modern nursing.