Notable women in world history are few and far between. This was entirely due to the dated belief that a woman's sole responsibilities are with her family. Consequently, many talented women were discouraged from pursuing their dreams and ambitions. Nonetheless, a number of women have managed to shine brightly even under such adverse circumstances. There have been great women leaders, accomplished women scientists and brilliant female athletes. Here is our list of the greatest women. Religious figures are omitted because they are beyond this list.
Empress Wu Zetian / Politics
Even this day when gender inequality is much less prevalent, there are still hardly any women in leadership positions. Yet, there once was a woman who reached her country's top position at a time when it was difficult for women to even venture outside their homes. The woman was Empress Wu, the only female ruler in the history of China and arguably the greatest women leader ever. During her reign, her title was actually "Emperor" instead of "Empress" to emphasize that she was a ruler and not someone's subordinate.
Politically, Empress Wu was a ruthless leader. She was notorious for showing no mercy to those who opposed her, and she had plenty of them to contend with. Apparently, a lot of men were unhappy that the sovereign of the great Chinese empire was a woman and were engaged in numerous plots to dethrone her. In term of her management of the empire, Wu was a highly capable ruler. The Chinese enjoyed a Golden Age during her reign. She did not hold grudges against legitimate critics of her policies. Instead, she often embraced the criticisms and even promoted her critics to high office. Wu's biggest contribution to history was her insistence on meritocracy. As a consequence, many talented but underprivileged Chinese were given a chance to demonstrate their abilities. Additionally, women gained considerable freedom and privilege during her reign, many of which were rolled back by subsequent rulers.
Marie Curie / Science
Throughout history, women were often barred from activities of the brain. This was due to women being unjustly viewed as having inferior intelligence, in relative to the superior men. Consequently, there have not been many women scientists and engineers. Marie Curie was one of very few exceptions. Not only she was a capable scientist, Curie was actually one of the best. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in science; she won it twice in fact. What makes her achievement so remarkable is the fact that she won Nobel Prizes for accomplishments in two different fields of science -- physics (1903) and chemistry (1911). This is truly one of the rarest feats in science. Marie Curie puts Aristotle and his view on women's intelligence to shame.
Babe Zaharias / Sports
When it comes to women and sports, female athletes are often overlooked and are being compared unfavorably against their male counterparts. The great Babe Zaharias did not change public perceptions of women's athletics, but she did prove them wrong. Zaharias was certainly not limited in her athletic sphere. She was a multiple gold medalist and record holder in track and field, a Hall of Fame golfer with 41 LPGA victories, and an All-American in basketball. More impressively, she often competed against men in various sports with laudable success. Babe Zaharias raised the profile of women athletes and paved the way for generations of great athletes to come.
Emily Dickinson / Literature
People often compare the great female poet Emily Dickinson to William Shakespeare and it is for a good reason. Although relatively anonymous in during her lifetime, Dickinson authored as many as 1800 poems. It is not the quantity of her works that earned her praise; it's the impeccable quality of her poetry that made her one of the most influential writers in American literature. For a woman, who lived in a literary world dominated by men and whose life was confined to living in homestead (due to illness and family responsibilities), to pen such voluminous and groundbreaking poetry was a truly remarkable feat. Her works have inspired countless people to take up poetry. Dickinson is the only female author whose works are being taught in American literature classes from middle school through college.