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5 Most Influential Women in History

You’ve no doubt heard the tired expression, “Behind every great man stands a great woman.” Well, forget about it. Sometimes, it’s the woman who stands alone. Here are but a few examples of women throughout history who have forever changed the course of human existence.

1. Elizabeth Blackwell

From her humble beginnings in early 19th-century England, Elizabeth Blackwell rose to become one of the most notable women in the history of academics and medicine. Her family was happy but quite poor, yet this didn’t stop Elizabeth from chasing her dreams. When her clan moved to the States, she worked long hours at a music academy and saved the $3,000 needed to enroll in medical school.

She was incredibly tenacious in her attempts to enroll, meeting resistance at every turn. Folks told her to try joining a medical school in Paris where things were a bit more liberal. Others suggested that she disguise herself as a man. She was told time and time again that, as a woman, she was intellectually inferior and biologically incapable of mastering the study of medicine.

Regardless, she was finally accepted at a New York medical school under the condition that the 150 existing male students take a vote. If even one of them were to object, Blackwell’s application would be turned down. She was voted in unanimously, and in 1849, became the first woman in the United States to achieve a medical degree — paving the way for countless others.

2. Rosa Parks

In the mid-20th century, racial strife from unfair segregation laws had already been simmering in the United States. It took one woman’s bravery to turn things up to a raging boil — one that would infinitely improve the lives of millions of Americans.

Rosa Parks had been exposed to inequity her entire life. She watched her grandfather guard the door with a shotgun while the Ku Klux Klan marched down her street. She worked as a secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and investigated the rapes and murders of helpless black Americans. She fought the Jim Crow laws and finally won herself the right to vote. All of these events led up to one critical moment.

When she boarded a Montgomery city bus that fateful day, she was exhausted from a long day of work. It wasn’t physical exhaustion that drove her refusal to give up her seat, however — she was tired of being pushed around all the time. Of the four people who were asked to move to the back of the bus to make room for standing white passengers, Rosa was the only one who held her ground. Her subsequent arrest set off a citywide bus boycott that snagged the nation’s interest and eventually spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement.

3. Rosie the Riveter

While Rosie the Riveter isn’t an actual person, her image was one found all over the United States during World War II. Her determined face, rebelliously arched eyebrow, and proudly flexed bicep inspired millions of women to join the workforce and replace the men who had journeyed overseas to fight. By the end of the war, nearly 20 million women held jobs — many of them thanks to Rosie’s influence.

It’s said that Rosie’s name was borrowed from that of Rosie Bonavita, an actual employee of Convair in California. She gained national fame after setting a record with her riveting speed while assembling a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber. The concept of Rosie the Riveter actually came from a Canadian poster girl for the war effort who went by “Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl” (a light submachine gun), but the infectious popularity of Rosie the Riveter cannot be denied. To this day, her image still stands as a symbol of feminine power and capability.

4. J.K. Rowling

Who says that delayed trains are a bad thing? While waiting for a ride from Manchester to London, Joanne Rowling was struck with an idea for a story — one that would open a world of reading to millions of kids all over the world. The years that followed brought untold stress and tragedy to her life. Her mother passed away, her marriage ended in divorce, and she was raising her first child alone. She was living in poverty, receiving state benefits, when the first Harry Potter novel was published in 1997.

J.K. Rowling has now become the first billionaire author in history. After giving away millions to charity and founding her own organization to help orphans worldwide, she’s officially given up her “billionaire” designation but still remains one of the wealthiest people in the world. More importantly, she’s reunited kids (and many adults!) with one of the closest companions many can ever hope for — a love of books.

5. Ellen DeGeneres

Few people have helped advance LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and/or questioning) rights as much as Ellen DeGeneres has. It began with an act of incredible bravery and honesty when she appeared on the cover of the April 14, 1997 issue of Time magazine along with “Yep, I’m Gay” in bright red lettering. Her globally famous TV character of the same name came out on the show two weeks later, and she was finally able to be herself both on-screen and off.

The encouragement Ellen gave to millions of young people struggling with their identities was just the beginning. She’s also been an avid supporter of a huge array of causes that include sexual abuse, depression and suicide, human trafficking, bullying, HIV and AIDS, child fostering, voter education, and more. In 2016, Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest honor a civilian can receive — for her philanthropic work and positive influence on the world.

Perhaps the only thing better than reading about these powerful and influential women is to become one. Get some practice by leaping into the take-charge persona of Kelly from Eko’s interactive series #WarGames. You’re in charge as you decide the fate of Kelly and her circle of hacker friends as they’re drawn from their roles as rebellious pranksters into a sphere of international espionage, evil media conglomerates, and global intrigue.

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