The women mentioned in this list are not household names and people such as Mary Seacole have unfortunately been omitted, as has Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie. This list has tried to combine women from different walks of life, and Princess Diana and Mother Teresa should perhaps have been added, but they appear elsewhere. It was also difficult to place them in order, and certainly this will not be the order many of you would have chosen.
1. Dame Freya Stark (1893-1993)
Dame Freya Stark was the first Westerner to travel through some regions of the Middle East and was the first Western woman to do so. She was fluent in Arabic and Turkish and mastered many other languages and dialects. She liked to be thought of as the female Lawrence of Arabia, but did other work too. She worked as a nurse in Italy during the First World War and during the Second World War worked for the British Ministry of Information, founding the Brotherhood of Freedom in Cairo which was a democratic anti-fascist organization. She wrote many enjoyable, immensely readable books about her travels which are well-worth reading.
2. Mary Edith Durham (1862-1944)
Like Freya Stark , Edith Durham as she was better known, spent time in the Balkans, where she won the respect of the fierce tribes peoples in High Albania. She wrote for “The Times” of London and worked to gather information in The Balkans, which was and is a highly sensitive area, and one of importance to the West. Her books are very readable, and although when she died she had lost the respect of some of her fellow-country people, the Albanians remembered her as she would have wished.
3. Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519)
Lucrezia Borgia was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI and sister of Cesare, with whom it is said she had an incestuous relationship. Cesare was the epitome of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Lucrezia went down in history as a ruthless poisoner, adulteress and schemer, who involved herself with the politics of Renaissance Italy. She became the Duchess of Ferrara on her marriage, which had been arranged by her brother to further the power and influence of the Borgia family. She is one of the women in history who played a very different role to other women of her time.
4. Amelia Earhart ( 1897-1937?)
Amelia Earhart was an intrepid adventurer and aviator whose motto could have been “Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” She was given her first flight by Frank Hawks in 1920 and went on to become only the 16th woman to be granted a pilots licence. Her plane was lost in 1937 and she was legally presumed dead in 1939. In December 2010 some bones were found on a pacific Island which may have been hers, and if they prove to be, the mystery surrounding her demise might be solved.
5. Mary Ann Evans, George Eliot (1819-1886)
Mary Ann Evans used George Eliot as her pen name because she wanted people to read her books, and in the 19th century, women were not supposed to be good authors. Undeterred she went on to write some of the best books in English Literature, notably, “Middlemarch”, “The Mill on the Floss” and others. Critics have said that she did not portray male characters realistically, but given the mores of the time this is perhaps understandable and forgivable.
6. Helen Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)
Perhaps Beatrix Potter’s best known creation was Peter Rabbit; the stories she wove around the animals she knew and loved are some of the best in children’s literature. She didn’t marry until late in life and became a successful sheep farmer, a strange occupation for a woman of that time.
7. Margaret Hilda Thatcher (Born 1925)
This woman made history when she was elected Prime Minister of Britain and Northern Ireland in 1979. She went on to win three consecutive terms in office and people either loved her or hated her, but they could not ignore her. She became known as the Iron Lady because of her rigidity and famously said “This lady’s not for turning.”
8. Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
This is the black woman who, in 1955 refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. This was in the US which had segregation laws at the time. She was secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and worked with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. to make the USA into a truly democratic country without apartheid type laws.
9. Margaretha Geertruida “Grietje” Zelle MacLeod or Mata Hari (1876-1917)
This Dutch born woman was executed as a spy by the French during the First World War. There is still some debate surrounding the circumstances in which she was tried and convicted and the evidence against her is somewhat flimsy, but she caused a sensation in her day. This was partly because she was willing to appear on the Paris stage virtually naked, as well as her espionage activities, and her reputation as a prostitute.
10. Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)
Ella Fitzgerald was known as “The First Lady of Jazz” and had an amazing voice. She was a great entertainer, and captivated audiences with scat and her rendition of “Summertime”.