Though many of these women lived
centuries ago, they are kept alive in
popular culture; music and poetry by the Roman Catholic abbess Hildegard can be heard in contemporary recordings, and Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji,
one of the greatest works of Japanese
literature, continues to inspire new
Many women overcame the oppression of their surroundings through
determination and ingenuity; Harriet Tubman, for example, escaped slavery and risked her life helping others to
freedom as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Other women grew up in privileged surroundings; the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia and the historian Ban Zhao were born to families that permitted the education of girls in an era when females were rarely even taught to read.
Some, such as Boudicca, who led a bloody rebellion against the Romans, were warriors. Others advocated peace: Bertha, baroness von Suttner, influenced the creation of the Nobel Peace Prize that would eventually be won by many women, including Wangari Maathai and
Mother Teresa. Like Mother Teresa, many of these women were driven by
religious conviction. Khadijah's belief in her husband Muhammad's revelations helped lay the foundation of Islam.
Joan of Arc's divine inspiration led the French in a decisive victory against the English. Her feats were celebrated by the poet Christine de Pisan, who also penned some of the earliest commentaries on women's roles in society.