This list contains brief sketches of 50 of the most prominent and influential female intellectual scholars in history. All are women of distinction; every one has had a great influence on how we all — men and women as a society — think and view the world, whether from a socio-psychological or scientific perspective. This diverse group is comprised of writers, some of whom are controversial, scientists, educators (such as Jane Goodall, in photo above), and lawyers (well, Supreme Court Justices), and yet the one connecting thread through the entire list is their intelligence and ability to communicate to a much wider audience, even beyond their areas of expertise. Here then, the list of the Fabulous Fifty.

50. Elizabeth Kiss



Ms. Kiss is the eighth president of Agnes Scott College, a prestigious liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, Georgia. And before that she was the Nannerl E. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. That’s a pretty strong resume for anyone.

Kiss’s interests lie in moral and political philosophy and she has published on a number of topics, including moral judgement and education, human rights, ethnic conflict and nationalism, and feminist debates about rights and justice. As a Rhodes Scholar, she studied for a BPhil and DPhil in Philosophy.

49. Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali


A portrait in courage: Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born women’s rights activist, writer, and politician—who fled both pre-modern Somalia and post-modern Holland and now lives in the United States. She has faced numerous death threats for repudiating Islam in favor of atheism. Has been under guard since September 2002 when she publicly announced on the radio that although being a Muslim was a part of her identity, she didn’t believe in God, confirming herself as an apostate.

Hirsi Ali was born on November 13, 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia as Ayaan Hirsi Magan. She is a producer and writer, known for Women on the Front Line (2013), Barend en Van Dorp (1990) and The Unbelievers (2013).

48. Mary Midgley

Mary Midgley


Midgley, a British philosopher of science, has received much criticism for opposing the growing religion of science and arguing that pre-Darwinian ideas of human nature tell us more than the latest pop-science evolutionary psychology best-seller.

A fiercely combative philosopher, she wrote her first book in her 50s after she raised her family. Now in her 80s, she is a scourge of ‘scientific pretension’ and a staunch defender of religion – although she doesn’t believe in God. She believes that philosophy matters, perhaps especially to the people who think it is merely a garnish on the brute facts of life – “like the bed of tulips in front of a nuclear power station”, as she puts it. That is why she is so much fun to read and why she is admired even by those who feel she sometimes oversteps the mark.

47. Mary Warnock

Mary Warnock

The Guardian

British philosopher and ethicist attracted to Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism, is best known for chairing the committee that produced A Question of Life: The Warnock Report on Human Fertilization and Embryology (1984), which advocated research on human embryos.

Warnock, according to the U.K.’s Guardian, has been at the moral heart of public life for more than 30 years. Former headmistress of a secondary school, former master of a Cambridge college, author on existentialism and mother of five, Warnock’s rational thinking and smooth powers of persuasion that have been behind committees that have changed lives.

46. Melanie Phillips

Melanie Phillips

The Guardian

A British journalist and author, Phillips has targeted the growing climate of censorship and political and social irrationality in Western countries, for which she has received both livid denunciation as a “conservative” and the Orwell Prize for political journalism (1996).

She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper. She is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain’s educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents. Her ideas have influenced politicians in both government and opposition, who follow her battles in the culture wars with fascination. Styled a conservative by her opponents, she prefers to think of herself as defending authentic liberal values against the attempt to destroy western culture from within.

45. Shirley Ann Jackson

Annual Meeting of the New Champions Tianjin 2010


First African American woman to attain a doctorate degree at MIT in nuclear physics. She has received many awards for her research and work as well as several honorary doctorate degrees. Jackson is a theoretical physicist who has spent her career researching and teaching about particle physics —the branch of physics which uses theories and mathematics to predict the existence of subatomic particles and the forces that bind them together.

Jackson spent many years conducting research at AT & T Bell Laboratories. She was named professor of physics at Rutgers University in 1991 and is the recipient of many honors, scholarships, and grants.

44. Gertrude B. Elion

Gertrude B. Elion


A joint-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988 “for discoveries of important principles for drug treatment.” One of her most notable creations was the development of the AIDS drug AZT. Born to immigrant parents in New York City in 1918, Elion spent her early youth in Manhattan, where she attended high school and excelled with, in her words, an “insatiable thirst for knowledge.”

Elion entered Hunter College, in New York City, at age 15 and graduated summa cum laude in chemistry at age 19. Though she never obtained a doctorate degree, she was later awarded an honorary Ph.D. from Polytechnic University of New York and an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Harvard University.

Hired at Burroughs-Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) in 1944, she began a 40-year partnership with Dr. George H. Hitchings. Elion and her team developed drugs to combat leukemia, herpes and AIDS. They also discovered treatments to reduce the body’s rejection of foreign tissue in kidney transplants between unrelated donors. In all, Elion developed 45 patents in medicine and was awarded 23 honorary degrees. She died in 1999.

43. Audrey de Nazelle


Audrey de Nazelle recently joined the Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College as a lecturer in air pollution management. She is an expert in risk assessment and exposure science. Her research is at the intersection of environmental sciences, health behavior, transportation, and urban planning. Her work aims at guiding decision makers towards health-promoting built environments and policies.

De Nazelle holds a PhD and an MS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Environmental Sciences and Engineering, where she still collaborates at the BME lab, and a Maîtrise in Mathematics from the University of Paris VI Pierre et Marie Curie.

42. Abigail E. Disney

Abigail E. Disney

Huffington Post

An American filmmaker and scholar known for her documentary films focused on social themes.

Disney is the Founder and the President of the Daphne Foundation, a progressive, social change foundation that makes grants to grassroots, community-based organizations working with low-income communities in New York City. Since 1991, the Daphne Foundation has made millions of dollars in grants in areas ranging from women’s rights to AIDS advocacy, children’s health, labor conditions, religion, and environmentalism. The Foundation provides ongoing general operating support to its grantees, along with grants for technical assistance, infrastructure improvement and resource development.

41. Karen Armstrong

Vancouver Sun

Formerly a Roman Catholic nun in Britain and widely considered a force for ecumenism, Armstrong now considers herself a “creative monotheist,” whose many books offer iconoclasm regarding major monotheist religions.

Armstrong is the internationally-renowned author of numerous works including, Through the Narrow Gate (1980), an autobiographical account of her seven years as a Roman Catholic nun; Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (1992); A History of God (1993); Jerusalem: One City, Two Faiths (1996); The Battle for God ; and Buddha (2000). She teaches at the Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism, and in 1999 she received the Muslim Public Affairs Council Media Award.

40. Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi


A Nobel Peace Prize laureate and scholar living under house arrest from 1989-2010, and had many other restrictions imposed by her native Burma’s (Myanmar’s) military rulers.

Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988, after years living and studying abroad, only to find widespread slaughter of protesters rallying against the brutal rule of dictator U Ne Win. She spoke out against him and initiated a nonviolent movement toward achieving democracy and human rights. In 1989, the government placed Suu Kyi under house arrest, and she spent 15 of the next 21 years in custody. Suu Kyi has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oxford, obtained in 1969.

39. Susan Blackmore

Susan Blackmore


A British evolutionary psychologist, Blackmore developed Richard Dawkins’s concept of the “meme” (a theoretical Darwinian unit of thought that she believes responsible for human behavior) through her many books, articles, and lectures.

Blackmore is a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She has a degree in psychology and physiology from Oxford University (1973) an MSc and a PhD in parapsychology from the University of Surrey (1980). Her research interests include memes, evolutionary theory, consciousness, and meditation. She writes for several magazines and newspapers, blogs for the Guardian newspaper and Psychology Today, and is a frequent contributor and presenter on radio and TV.

38. Mary Daly

Mary Daly

The Guardian

A ground-breaking feminist theoretician and philosopher. Daly was born in Schenectady, New York, in 1928. Educated in Catholic schools, she received her first Ph.D. from St. Mary’s College/Notre Dame University in 1954. Between 1959 and 1966 she taught philosophy in Junior Year Abroad programs in Fribourg, Switzerland. She also received doctorates in theology and philosophy from the University of Fribourg in 1963 and 1965. After 1966 she was a member of the theology department of Boston College.

Daly was in the forefront of American feminist thinking, both in terms of her early appearance as a feminist writer and in terms of the depth, originality, and power of her work. Her first feminist book, The Church and the Second Sex (1968), was published at the very beginning of the women’s liberation movement that emerged in the late 1960s.

37. Midge Decter

Philly Soc

An American editor and writer, Decter was a leftist in her youth but, drawn to observant Judaism and a conservative political approach, has become a leading figure at Commentary magazine. Decter is a controversial writer and activist who has long been associated with neoconservatism.

Decter was better known in the 1970s as a cultural provocateur who railed against the social politics of the emerging New Left. Although her status as a Manhattan divorcee with a successful journalism career might have made her an unlikely critic of feminism, she emerged as a particularly harsh critic of the women’s liberation movement. As a write-up in the Jewish Women’s Archive put it, Decter’s first two books—The Liberated Woman & Other Americans (1970) and The New Chastity and Other Arguments Against Women’s Liberation (1972) —”advanced the thesis that radical women who claimed they wanted freedom from male oppression were, in fact, afraid of growing up, having children, and taking on responsibility.”

36. Gertrude Himmelfarb

Gertrude Himmelfarb

University of Chicago

An American scholar drawn to examining the roots of social progress and decay, is best known for her sympathetic portrayals of Victorian society, dealing with similar social problems to those faced today. Himmelfarb was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Bertha (née Lerner) and Max Himmelfarb. She received her undergraduate degree from Brooklyn College in 1942 and her doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1950. She also studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and at Girton College, Cambridge University. In 1942, she married Irving Kristol, known as the “godfather” of neoconservatism. 

Professor Emeritus at the Graduate School of the City University of New York, she is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees. She has served on the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress, the Council of Academic Advisors of the American Enterprise Institute, and the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1991 she delivered the Jefferson Lecture under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2004 she received the National Humanities Medal awarded by the President.

35. Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin


An amazing woman. She surpassed all expectations of special educators when she became one of the first autistic people to earn a Ph.D., and she believes that any person with autism can do the same.

As a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, she has developed grazing and handling techniques that reduce stress on animals. These guidelines are now used throughout North America and beyond. She consults on livestock management for commercial food giants, and has designed cattle facilities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Australia. Dr. Grandin also travels the world to advocate for those with autism and to inspire autistic communities.

34. Susan Sontag



An intellectual giant, a writer and critic. Born in New York City, Sontag grew up in Arizona and California, studied philosophy at the Univ. of Chicago, Harvard, and Oxford, absorbed Gallic culture in Paris, and settled (1959) in New York City.

Regarded as a brilliant and original thinker and highly visible as one of the most prominent public intellectuals of the second half of the 20th century, Sontag became known for her vividly written critical essays on avant-garde culture in the 1960s. Most of these were collected in Against Interpretation (1966), in which she popularized the word camp, referring to exaggerated reproductions of the style and emotions of pop culture.

33. Barbara Tuchman

Barbara Tuchman


A famous American historian (who died in 1989). She won the Pulitzer Prize for history twice, for The Guns of August (1962), about the onset of World War I, and for Stilwell and the American Experience in China (1971).

Tuchman’s other works include The Zimmermann Telegram (1958); A Distant Mirror (1978), a study of the 14th cent.; and Practicing History (1982), an essay collection.

32. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou


Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in April 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. From that humble beginning, she became one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time, with over 50 honorary doctorate degrees. Angelou became a celebrated poet, memoirist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.

In the late 1950’s Angelou joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild. With the guidance of her friend, the novelist James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1970, the book received international acclaim made the bestseller list. It was also banned in many schools during that time as Maya Angelou’s honesty about having been sexually abused opened a subject matter that had long been taboo in the culture. Later, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings would become a course adoption at college campuses around the world. With more than 30 bestselling titles, Maya Angelou has written 36 books. She died in May 2014.

31. Condoleezza Rice

Released by OSDPA Eric Ruff OSDPA Terry Mitchell, 703-695-0169


Condoleezza Rice is an American diplomat who served as the 66th United States Secretary of State. Often considered a role model for other African American women striving to reach great professional heights, Rice is the first African American woman to ever hold the position of the United States Secretary of States. A high achiever, she had served as the National Security Advisor during the firm term of President George Bush, becoming the first woman to do so.

As a young girl growing up in the racially segregated Alabama, a political career was the last thing on her mind. She was musically inclined from childhood and took classes in ballet and piano with the aim of becoming a professional pianist. However, while at university she realized that she did not have it in her to become a professional musician, and chose to study international politics instead. She became a professor of political science at the Stanford University and was selected the university’s provost owing to her brilliance and strong character. She had always been actively involved in politics and had served as the National Security Advisor before being selected the Secretary of State.

30. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

EKR Foundation

Kübler-Ross pioneered the concept of providing psychological counseling to the dying. In her first book, On Death and Dying (published in 1969), she described five stages she believed were experienced by those nearing death—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She also suggested that death be considered a normal stage of life, and offered strategies for treating patients and their families as they negotiate these stages.

The topic of death had been avoided by many physicians and the book quickly became a standard text for professionals who work with terminally ill patients. Hospice care has subsequently been established as an alternative to hospital care for the terminally ill, and there has been more emphasis on counseling for families of dying patients.

29. Pauline Kael

Pauline Kael

Barnes and Noble

An extraordinary writer and US critic. She was a noted New Yorker movie critic beginning in1968; her philosophy of film reviewing was collected in “When the Lights Go Down,” 1980.

She was famous for her scathing, but honest movie reviews. She took digs at many popular films like The Sound of Music and Star Wars with no inhibitions. Yet her enthusiasm for films like Bonnie and Clyde gave some movies a new lease on life. She was considered the greatest film critic of the 20th century. This blog writer had a chance to interview her once at The New Yorker and found her to be an amazing thinker with an incredible, almost scholarly knowledge of the art of film-making. She died in 2001.

28. Gail Sheehy

Gail Sheehy

Mystic Chamber

US writer, journalist, editor. She is best known for “Pathfinders: Predictable Crises of Adult Life,” 1976. A world-renowned author, journalist, and popular lecturer, Gail Sheehy has changed the way millions of women and men around the world look at the stages of their lives. In her 50 years as a writer she has interviewed thousands of women and men and written 17 books.

Her earliest revolutionary book, Passages, was named by a Library of Congress survey one of the ten most influential books of our times. Passages remained on The New York Times Bestseller List for more than three years and has been reprinted in 28 languages. Five other books on the passages theme revisit the stages of adult life and illuminate for Understanding Men’s Passages, The Silent Passage (menopause); Sex and the Seasoned Women, and Passages in Caregiving.

27. Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer


When Marissa Mayer took charge of Yahoo in 2013, she made history as the youngest female CEO to lead a Fortune 500 company. She also set another precedent by being the first woman to accept a chief executive position while pregnant.

Those were just the latest of Mayer’s firsts. Back in 1998, when Google was still a small startup that no one knew of, she was the first female engineer and among the first 20 people to work at the company. Mayer was in charge of user experience and worked on some of the company’s most successful projects, including Google Maps, Google News and Gmail. When asked about her role as a woman in the male-dominated tech industry, Mayer would often point to her status as a geek, rather than a woman.  During her early days at Yahoo, she made the headlines both for her business and personal-life decisions. In 2013, Mayer came under fire when she took only a couple of weeks of maternity leave. She caused further outrage as she banned her employees from working from home, only to extend Yahoo’s paid parental leave to eight weeks a few months later.

26. Sheryl Sandberg


Sheryl Sandberg, the 44-year old chief operating officer of Facebook and the best-selling author of “Lean in,” doesn’t have her own company or know how to code. Yet, she has managed to join the ranks of the most influential women in tech and has recently become one of the youngest female billionaires in the world.

Sandberg’s book, which reads like a manifesto for women in the workplace, the former Google executive tells women to “lean in” to get ahead in their career. Sandberg’s favorite motto – “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” – has become an inspiration for many American women. She has prompted both praise and criticism, sparking a debate about how women can find a better work-life balance.

Since first published a year ago, Lean In has grown into a movement and a nonprofit organization. Recently, Sandberg announced a partnership with Getty Images, which aims to change the perception of women in stock photos used around the world.

25. Weili Dai

Weili Dai

Omega Watches

Weili Dai is one the most successful female entrepreneurs in tech and the only woman co-founder of an American semiconductor company. Born and raised Shanghai, she came to the Unites States as a teenager when with her family immigrated in 1979. At the time, she spoke no English. But Dai used every chance to improve her English and soon got accepted to study computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, where she met her husband. Together they founded Marvell, a company which designs chips for a variety of devices. Since then, they have managed to position the company as a global leader in the semiconductor industry. A proud geek, Dai has become a passionate advocate for attracting more women to engineering. She is also one of the tech executives who met with President Barack Obama to lobby for immigration reform for high-tech internationals.

24. Tererai Trent

tererai trent

Apb Speakers

Dr. Tererai Trent, Scholar, Humanitarian, and the founder of Tinogona Foundation. It’s a pretty big deal when you’re Oprah Winfrey’s inspiration, but it’s not hard to see why Dr. Tererai Trent fits the bill. Born in acute poverty in rural Zimbabwe, Trent grew up hearing from everyone around her that her brothers were the breadwinners and hopes for the future. Forced into an arranged and abusive marriage at age eleven, Trent harbored a secret dream to educate herself, and moved to Oklahoma at age 20 with her husband and five children to pursue it.

In 2009 she crossed the stage at Western Michigan University to accept her doctorate. “Walking to the podium, I felt like I had rested my case to the world,” she said. She is now building a school in her Zimbabwean hometown with a grant from none other than her biggest fan, Oprah.

23. Elena Kagan

Elena Kagan


Supreme Court Justice. Formerly, Kagan was a policy adviser in the Clinton White House, dean of Harvard Law School, and Solicitor General in the Obama administration, pretty heady stuff.

She won approval from the Senate on August 5, 2010 to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. She took her oaths of office on August 7, 2010 to become the 112th justice and only the 4th woman to serve on the high court.

22. Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan

ABC News

Noonan is a much respected, much followed American political historian and journalist, best known for her emphasis on the character of political and religious figures, rather than their glamour, as her biographies of John Paul II and Ronald Reagan attest.

Noonan is also known for being a presidential speechwriter. Noonan wrote Reagan’s address to the nation after the Challenger explosion. In 1988, she was chief speechwriter for George H.W. Bush’s presidential bid, during which she coined the phrases “a kinder, gentler nation,” “a thousand points of light,” and “read my lips: no new taxes.”

21. Susan Greenfield

Susan Greenfield


A British pharmacologist and student of consciousness, Greenfield has held a number of distinguished science posts despite colleagues’ criticism of her controversial theories on the dangers to children of computers and social networking.

Greenfield has been awarded 30 Honorary Degrees from British and foreign universities and heads a multi-disciplinary research group exploring novel brain mechanisms linked to neurodegenerative diseases, such Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. She is a Senior Research Fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford and has currently co-founded a biotech company developing a novel approach to neurodegenerative disorders.

20. Angela Davis

Angela Davis


Davis is a controversial political activist, scholar, Communist and author. She emerged as a nationally prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s, as a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, despite never being an official member of the party.

Davis is known internationally for her ongoing work to combat all forms of oppression in the U.S. and abroad. Over the years she has been active as a student, teacher, writer, scholar, and activist/organizer. She is a living witness to the historical struggles of the contemporary era. Prisoner rights have been among her continuing interests.

19. Phyllis Schlafly

Phyllis Schlafly


An American lawyer, political analyst, and writer, is best known for almost single-handedly preventing passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution during the 1970s, arguing that it would unduly empower activist judges
Controversial indeed. Schlafly has been a national leader of the conservative movement since the publication of her best-selling 1964 book, A Choice Not an Echo. She has been a leader of the pro-family movement since 1972, when she started her national volunteer organization called Eagle Forum. In a ten-year battle, Mrs. Schlafly led the pro-family movement to victory over the principal legislative goal of the radical feminists, called the Equal Rights Amendment.

An articulate and successful opponent of the radical feminist movement, she appears in debate on college campuses more frequently than any other conservative. She was named one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century by the Ladies’ Home Journal.

18. Sonia Sotomayor

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor


A Supreme Court Justice. And…before that, a fearless federal trial court judge who saved major league baseball from a ruinous 1995 strike – managed an easy win in her confirmation to the United States Supreme Court in 2009.

In cruising to a 68-31 confirmation vote in the Senate, largely along party lines, Sotomayor entered the record book as the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the High Court.

17. Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan


Jordan received a B.A. in political science and history from Texas Southern University in 1956 and earned a law degree from Boston University in 1959. Elected to the Texas state Senate in 1966, she became the first black to enter that body since 1883. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972, Jordan gained national attention as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversaw President Nixon’s impeachment hearings.

With her reputation as a fine orator already established, she was selected as the keynote speaker at the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City, becoming the first African American to earn that distinction. A tireless supporter of civil rights legislation, Jordan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 199.

16. Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead


Enormously influential, Mead was an anthropologist. She graduated from Barnard, and then earned a Ph.D. at Columbia. In 1926 she became assistant curator, in 1942 associate curator, and from 1964 to 1969 she was curator of ethnology of the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. After 1954 she served as adjunct professor of anthropology at Columbia
Mead focused her interests on problems of child rearing, personality, and culture. Her fieldwork was carried out primarily among the peoples of Oceania. She was also active with the World Federation for Mental Health. A prolific writer and avid speaker who enjoyed engaging the general public, Mead was instrumental in popularizing the anthropological concept of culture with readers in the United States. She also stressed the need for anthropologists to understand the perspective of women and children.

15. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg


Supreme Court Justice chosen by President Bill Clinton as his first appointment to the United States Supreme Court. Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the second daughter born to Nathan and Celia Bader. She had distinguished academic careers at both Columbia and Harvard Universities.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. After Ruth Bader Ginsburg had served 13 years on the Court of Appeals, President Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court of the United States. She would fill the vacancy left by retiring Justice Byron White, who had served since the Kennedy administration. Ginsburg was only the second woman to be named to the Supreme Court, following Sandra Day O’Connor (#5 on our list), and was the first Jewish woman to serve.

14. Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

Ducklings Montessori

The first woman in Italy to graduate in medicine from the University of Rome, Montessori worked with mentally retarded children, then served in a variety of university teaching positions.

In 1907, based on her research in philosophy, child development and education, she opened the Casa dei Bambini, teaching children of normal intelligence using her methods. She spent most of her remaining life writing, lecturing and teaching about her methods.

13. Naomi Wolf

Naomi Wolf


American author, editor, and essayist, is best known for The Beauty Myth (2002), which portrayed successful women as haunted by the need to look like movie stars.

With the publication of The Beauty Myth Wolf became a leading spokesperson of what was later described as the third wave of the feminist movement. Wolf attended Yale University where in 1984, she received her Bachelor of Arts in English literature. From 1985 to 1987, she was a Rhodes Scholar at New College, Oxford.

12. Shirley Tilghman, Princeton University

Shirley Tilghman


The native of Canada became the first woman to lead Princeton in 2001 after teaching there for 15 years. Her appointment was a particular accomplishment given Princeton’s long-time resistance to co-education.

A molecular biologist, Tilghman helped clone the first mammalian gene while pursuing post-doctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health. She went on to become one of the first members of the advisory council of the Human Genome Project for the NIH.

11. Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood


Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, and grew up in northern Ontario and Quebec, and in Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.
Regarded as one of Canada’s finest living writers, Atwood is a poet, novelist, story writer, essayist, and environmental activist. Her books have received critical acclaim in the United States, Europe, and her native Canada, and she has received numerous literary awards, including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Governor General’s Award, twice. Atwood’s critical popularity is matched by her popularity with readers; her books are regularly bestsellers. She has been a prolific author, with more than forty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction published, but is best known for her novels. Those novels include The Edible Woman (1969), The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000.

10. Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem


She changed the world. An American feminist journalist and author, has written many bestsellers such as Revolution from Within (1993) but is best known for co-founding Ms. Magazine, which advocates many key progressive and feminist causes.
Steinem, of course, is best known for her feminist activism. She travels in the U.S. and other countries as an organizer and lecturer and is a frequent media spokeswoman on issues of equality. She is particularly interested in the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolution, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice.

9. Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich


Ehrenreich is a well-known socialist, feminist, and social critic. A self-described fourth-generation atheist, she has authored more than twenty books, including Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (2001). Between 1994 and 1998, she was a regular columnist for Time magazine. Today her editorials appear commonly in The Progressive magazine.. She also has written for The New York Times and Mother Jones.

Ehrenreich was born in August 1941 in Butte, Montana. In 1963 she graduated from Reed College, where she majored in physics, and in 1968 she received a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University. After completing her studies, Ehrenreich turned her attention to political and anti-war activism.

8. Susan Faludi

Susan Faludi


A Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and author, Faludi is best known for advocating “power” feminism rather than “victim” feminism, attacking irrelevant “deconstruction” theory, and warning of a coming backlash against feminism.

Faludi grew up in Yorktown Heights, New York. She graduated from Harvard University in 1981, where she wrote for The Harvard Crimson, and became a journalist, writing for The New York Times, Miami Herald, Atlanta Journal Constitution, San Jose Mercury News, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. Throughout the eighties she wrote several articles on feminism and the apparent resistance to the movement. Seeing a pattern emerge, Faludi wrote Backlash, which was released in late 1991.

7. Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

Tim Pierce

A U.S. Senator, and former law professor at Harvard. Born in Oklahoma City in 1949, Elizabeth Warren became the first member of her family to graduate from college, eventually earning her law degree from Rutgers University. After working as a professor at Harvard University, Warren was selected to lead the National Bankruptcy Review Commission.

In 2008, she headed the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Four years later, in November 2012, Warren won election to the U.S. Senate, defeating incumbent Republican Scott Brown. Many people think that someday she’ll make a run at the presidency.

6. Germaine Greer

Germaine Greer


Enormously influential. Greer is an Australian scholar and journalist whose best known work is the major 1970s feminist text The Female Eunuch (1970), originally advocated sexual liberation but, more recently, has lauded celibacy.

Greer went to ‘Star of the Sea College’ in Gardenvale and was awarded a teaching scholarship in 1956. She enrolled in University of Melbourne and graduated with a degree in English, literature and French. Her academic career started with a lecturer post at the University of Sydney. Here she earned a master’s degree in romantic poetry. Her final thesis ‘The Development of Bryon’s Satiric Mode’ won a Commonwealth scholarship that she used for funding her PhD from the University of Cambridge. Greer was a huge supporter of ‘women’s liberation’ which she explained was different than having equality with men. According to her, gender differences were to be defined in a positive manner and women should have the right to term their own principles.

5. Sandra Day O’Connor

Sandra Day O’Connor


Perhaps no other jurist could have come to the Supreme Court under greater expectations and scorn. When President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981 to be the first woman justice to sit on the Supreme Court, O’Connor earned undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University and eventually settled in Arizona. She served the state as an assistant attorney general, state senator, and finally as a superior court judge. Governor Bruce Babbitt raised her to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979, and in 1981 President Ronald Reagan nominated her for the U.S. Supreme Court. She was confirmed by the Senate 99-0 and sworn in on 25 September 1981, becoming the first female justice in the court’s history. Over time she earned a reputation on the bench as a moderate conservative and a key figure in court decisions related to the issue of abortion.

4. Drew Gilpin Faust


The first female president in Harvard’s 373 year history combines an interest in the Civil War with a commitment to advancing women. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, she spent 25 years on its faculty and was director of the school’s Women’s Studies Program.

In 2001 she joined the Radcliffe Institute as its first dean, where she attracted major donor gifts and renovated its campus. She has also written six books, including The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, released in 2008. It was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

3. Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia

Voice of the Voiceless

Paglia is an author, journalist, art critic, and “dissident feminist,” who is best known for espousing feminist goals while reasoning her way to them independently of the formal movement, a fact that earned her both hostility and mis-characterization as a conservative.

By the mid-1990s Paglia was a celebrity considered among the most well-known social philosophers in the United States. With a popular image that the Playboy interviewer described as “anti-feminist feminist, anti-gay lesbian and anti-liberal liberal,” she had acquired a reputation as an academic attack dog. For her part, Paglia told the interviewer that she considered herself a feminist, but added that other feminists disliked her because she had criticized the women’s movement. Unlike most mainstream feminists, she believes feminism has betrayed women by replacing dialogue between the sexes with political correctness. Given the sacrifices that so-called sexual liberation entails, Paglia maintained that, in the end, it was the children—by way of neglect—who suffered most from the women’s movement.

2. Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall


An amazing woman, enormously popular and influential. She is (as if you didn’t know) a British primatologist, widely considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.

Her methods of studying animals in the wild, which emphasized patient observation over long periods of time of both social groups and individual animals, changed not only how chimpanzees (a kind of ape) as a species are understood, but also how studies of many different kinds of animals are carried out. In recent years, she has also become an outspoken environmentalist, lecturing in front of thousands around he world.

1. Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson


How do you pick a #1? Maybe by measuring the influence a person has had on others. And if that be the case, Carson deserves to be our most influential female scholar. She was an American marine biologist and conservationist whose work revolutionized the global environmental movement.

In high school, Carson was an intelligent and motivated student who impressed her teachers. In college she studied English at the Pennsylvania College for Women in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But she changed her major to biology after rediscovering her love for science. After earning her undergraduate degree, she studied creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s degree. She completed her postgraduate studies at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts.

In 1936 Carson served as an aquatic biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. A year later Carson published a well-received essay in the Atlantic Monthly, which would ultimately lead to her first book, Under the Sea Wind (1941).
She soon became editor-in-chief of the Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, a department dedicated to the conservation (protection) of wildlife. During this time she honed her writing skills, which focused on wildlife conservation. In 1951 The Sea around Us brought its author instant fame. Carson died in 1964.