Top 10 Inspiring Women You Never Learned About in School

History forgot these amazing women! From warrior princesses to pirate queens, discover 10 inspiring heroines who defied expectations and changed the world.


5/8/20244 min read

a woman in uniform and a bust busting bust of a bust of a woman
a woman in uniform and a bust busting bust of a bust of a woman

History's Hidden Gems:

History class often focuses on the same big names – kings, emperors, and political figures. But what about the incredible women who shaped the world in fascinating and unexpected ways? Here, we celebrate ten history-making women you might not know, but absolutely should!

1. Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BC): The Powerful Pharaoh

Ancient Egypt is famous for its pharaohs, but Hatshepsut stands out. After her husband's death, she defied tradition and took the throne, becoming one of the few female pharaohs. Hatshepsut wasn't just a placeholder ruler. She oversaw a golden age of peace and prosperity, commissioning magnificent temples and trade expeditions. Her reign is a testament to female leadership and ambition in a time when women rarely held such power.

2. Khutulun (1260-1300 AD): The Mongolian Warrior Princess

Genghis Khan's legacy is well-known, but his granddaughter Khutulun deserves recognition too. A skilled archer and horseback rider, she was undefeated in combat. Khutulun wasn't interested in war, though. She challenged potential suitors to wrestling matches – only if they won could they marry her, ensuring she wouldn't be forced into an unwanted union. Her story challenges traditional gender roles and highlights the strength and independence of Mongol women.

3. Isabella Baumfree (1744-1806): America's First Black Spy

The American Revolution saw many heroes, but Isabella Baumfree, also known as "Black Betty," is often overlooked. An enslaved woman, she escaped to the British side, offering valuable intelligence about the Continental Army. Baumfree's information helped the British capture valuable supplies and win key battles. After the war, she used her knowledge and connections to secure her freedom and become a successful businesswoman. Her story highlights the hidden contributions of people of color to American history.

4. Mary Kingsley (1862-1900): The Fearless Explorer

Victorian women were expected to be proper ladies, but Mary Kingsley defied expectations. Fascinated by West Africa, she embarked on solo expeditions in her 30s, documenting the region's culture and environment. Kingsley challenged racist stereotypes, learning local languages and advocating for fair trade practices. Her adventurous spirit paved the way for future female explorers and anthropologists.

5. Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944): The Princess Turned Spy

Noor Inayat Khan wasn't your typical princess. A descendant of Indian royalty raised in Europe, she became a musician and writer. During World War II, she joined the British SOE, a spy agency. Noor was sent to Nazi-occupied France, transmitting vital information for the resistance. Unfortunately, she was captured and executed. Her bravery in the face of danger showcases the crucial role women played in wartime intelligence gathering.

6. Chien-Shih (1785-1844): The Pirate Queen

Pirates are often depicted as men, but Chien-Shih, also known as Ching Shih, shattered that image. Widowed after a pirate captain's death, she took command of his vast fleet, becoming the most powerful pirate in Chinese history. Chien-Shih ruled with an iron fist, expanding her territory and amassing immense wealth. Her story challenges traditional notions of femininity and highlights the power women could wield in unexpected spheres.

7. Annie Oakley (1860-1926): The Sharpshooting Showstopper

Annie Oakley wasn't just good at shooting – she was phenomenal. A sharpshooter from a young age, she rose to fame in Wild West shows, dazzling audiences with her incredible accuracy. Annie Oakley challenged gender stereotypes, proving that women could be exceptional marksmen and entertainers. Her story inspired countless girls to pursue their dreams, regardless of expectations.

8. Lise Meitner (1878-1968): The Unsung Hero of Nuclear Physics

Nuclear science is often associated with Albert Einstein, but Lise Meitner played a crucial role in its development. An Austrian physicist who fled Nazi persecution, Meitner co-discovered nuclear fission, the process that powers nuclear bombs and reactors. However, due to sexist practices, she wasn't credited alongside her male colleague Otto Hahn. Despite this, Meitner's contributions to science remain undeniable.

9. Wangari Maathai (1940-2011): The Green Warrior

Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Witnessing the environmental degradation in her country, she founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization that empowered women to plant trees and combat deforestation. Maathai's work not only restored the environment but also created economic opportunities for women in rural communities. Her activism transcended environmentalism, advocating for democracy and women's rights. Wangari Maathai's story is an inspiration for anyone who wants to make a positive impact on the world.

10. Jeanne Baret (1740-1807): The Woman Who Sailed the World (Disguised as a Man)

Science exploration was a male-dominated field in the 18th century. But Jeanne Baret, a passionate botanist, wasn't deterred. Disguised as a man, she joined a French scientific expedition led by La Pérouse. Baret spent three years traveling the world, collecting and documenting countless plant specimens. Her bravery, intelligence, and meticulous work contributed significantly to botanical knowledge, even though she received little recognition during her lifetime. Today, Jeanne Baret is celebrated as a pioneering scientist who defied societal limitations.

These ten women are just a glimpse into the vast pool of incredible women who have shaped history. Their stories highlight courage, resilience, and a drive to challenge the status quo. By learning about these hidden gems, we gain a richer understanding of the past and celebrate the contributions of women who often go unnoticed.

Further Exploration:

Want to delve deeper into these fascinating women? Here are some resources to get you started:

Remember, history isn't just about the "who's who" of textbooks. It's about the stories of all the people who made a difference. So, the next time you hear about a historical event, take a moment to consider the women who might have been involved, shaping the world in ways we're only just beginning to understand.