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10 Amazing Women From History That You Have Probably Never Heard Of

... but definitely should know about

By Alexia Dellner, 20 September 2016
10 Amazing Women From History That You Have Probably Never Heard Of

There’s no doubt that history is filled with inspirational women, who have fought courageously for their beliefs, become experts in their fields and made a real difference to people's lives. However, not all of these incredible women receive the attention they deserve in school lesson plans. So that's why we've rounded up some special females who made their mark on history (whether or not they can be found in the history books). Here are 12 historical women that you may not have heard of, but that have done some seriously impressive things. From fearless political activists and rulers, to groundbreaking scientists, to extraordinary athletes, these historical women are so inspiring. 

From fearless political activists and rulers, to groundbreaking scientists, to extraordinary athletes, these historical women are so inspiring.

Madge Syers (1881-1917), figure skater

British Madge Syers was the first female to compete at the highest level of international figure skating. In 1902 she created a sensation when she entered the World Championships (after discovering that the competition didn’t specify the sex of the participants) and managed to finish in second place after male competitor Ulrich Salchow. Officials subsequently banned female competitions from the championships, but fortunately this was overturned in 1905 when a separate ladies’ event was created - which Madge won easily in both 1906 and 1907. Madge continued to win many more competitions, including the 1908 Olympics. Not only was Madge an incredible figure skater, she was also a talented swimmer and equestrienne.

Murasaki Shikibu (973 - circa 1014), courtier and writer

Murasaki Shikibu was a lady-in-waiting at the Japanese Imperial court during the Heian period and wrote what is generally considered to be the first full novel in human history, The Tale of Genji. Highly intelligent, Murasaki learned Chinese by listening in to her brother’s lessons. Because the names of women were not recorded in the Heian era, Murasaki Shikibu is a nickname and her real name remains unknown, as does her date of death, but what is for certain is the greatness and influence her writing had on generations to come. 

Nellie Bly (1864 - 1922), Journalist

Nellie Bly was a daring American journalist, known for her investigative and undercover work. She often wrote about political corruption but one of her most famous pieces was a brilliant exposé on the abusive conditions of a mental institution in New York City (which she managed to get by faking madness so she could report undercover), which led to public outcry and reform. She’s also famous for travelling around the world in a record-breaking 72 days!

Raden Ajeng Kartini (1879 - 1904), political activist 

You may not have heard of Javanese-born Raden Ajeng Kartini but in Indonesia, she is known as a national hero for her role in women’s emancipation and Indonesian independence. A fierce feminist, Raden opened the first Indonesian primary school for native girls that did not discriminate based on social standing in 1903. She also wrote letters to Dutch colonial officials to further the cause of independence and Javanese women's emancipation up until her death at the age of just 25. 

Beatrice Webb (1858 - 1943), economist 

Devoted to social research and political work, Beatrice worked tirelessly to help better the lives of the urban poor. Together with her husband Sidney, she was instrumental in developing the Labour Party and co-founded the London School of Economics. 

Nancy Wake (1912 - 2011), journalist and French Resistance fighter

Born in New Zealand, Nancy became a journalist, British agent and hero of the French Resistance movement. During WWII, she bravely saved the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers by leading them through occupied France and into the safety of neutral Spain. She was nicknamed ‘The White Mouse’ by the Gestapo, due to her ability to evade capture. 

Nettie Stevens (1861-1912), geneticist

American scientist Nettie Stevens played a vital role in discovering the connection between chromosomes and sex determination, in particular that males are responsible for determining the sex of children. Before this, scientists believed that it was the mother or the environment that determined if a baby was born male or female! Nettie was also a prominent teacher and researcher. 

Zenobia (3rd century), Queen of ancient Palmyra

When her son and husband, the ruler of the Roman colony Palmyra in present-day Syria, was assassinated, Zenobia declared herself queen. During her reign, she certainly didn't just sit around doing nothing - she seized Egypt and declared her independence from Rome. She was highly-educated and surrounded herself with intellectuals and philosophers. She was also reportedly excellent at riding horses and hunting.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), mathematician

The daughter of famous poet Lord Byron, Ada is regarded by many as the world’s first computer programmer. But Ada’s notable contributions to computer sciences weren’t recognised until after her death, largely because they were so far ahead of their time. One of her theories included a method for how a machine could repeat a series of instructions, a process knows as looping and something that computer programs actually use today. 

Hatshepsut (circa 1505 BC - circa 1458 BC), Egyptian queen

Hatshepsut was one of the few (and most successful) female rulers of Egypt, where she reigned for 22 years. She brought great peace and prosperity to the region and created many beautiful temples and monuments. She insisted on being portrayed as male - with large muscles and a beard - in images, baffling scholars.