We’ve seen famous female leaders become pioneers for women’s rights and social justice. Inventors, entrepreneurs, politicians, mothers, and trailblazers—these figures have revolutionized their respective fields. From math to literature, the greatest female leaders have done it all.
Women’s History Month is the perfect time to shine a light on famous female leaders in history and celebrate women’s efforts—both past and present—in making the world a better place.
Famous female leaders in history
Maud Younger was a revolutionary in every sense of the word. The suffragist and labor activist was one of the greatest female leaders in history. Despite coming from a well-connected family, Maud took on the cause of working-class women. She held several waitressing jobs to investigate working conditions in restaurants.
As a result, Maud organized the first Waitresses' Union in San Francisco. Not only did Maud advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, but she was also one of the first women to do a solo coast-to-coast drive across America. All this and more, make Maud Younger one of the most influential female leaders in history.
Dian Fossey is a renowned primatologist and conservationist known for her extensive research of mountain gorilla groups. As one of the most prominent female leaders in her field, she helped increase the population of mountain gorillas, essentially saving them from extinction.
Thanks to her efforts, Fossey became a member of the “Trimates”—a trio of female scientists who studied great apes in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, the world lost this influential female leader when her life was cut short at the age of 53.
Margaret Queen Adams
Margaret Queen Adams was the first female Deputy Sheriff in the United States. The prominent woman leader joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) in 1912 and served for 35 years until her retirement in 1947. Today, Adams is remembered for her bravery and serves as a role model for girls going against the grain.
Rosalind Wiener Wyman
Rosalind Wiener Wyman became the second woman in history to be elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1953. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she was also the youngest member ever elected at just 22 years old. The 90-year-old famous female leader is a living legend. As a democratic political figure, she spectacularly changed the course of history.
Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star in Hollywood, appeared in over 60 films throughout her career. This famous woman leader in history was a force to be reckoned with. Wong pioneered much-needed changes in Hollywood history—her everlasting legacy continues to impact entertainers everywhere.
Wong challenged the entertainment industry’s tone-deaf nature in a variety of ways. The famous female leader refused to use Japanese mannerisms when playing a Chinese character. She was featured in silent films, movies, television, stage, and radio. To top things off, Wong was the first Asian American to lead a U.S. television show.
Today's famous women leaders
As an influential Black Californian who has shaped the state, Alice Walker is a name we should all be aware of. The American author, poet, and social activist is best known for her award–winning novel, The Color Purple. Walker is an influential female leader in every way. Whether she’s advocating for social justice or driving change for a better future, Walker challenges the status quo by raising important questions.
Susan Burton is an influential female leader who paved the road for others after managing to save herself from the failing prison system. In 1982, Burton’s world was shattered when her 5-year-old son died after being hit by an off-duty LAPD detective’s car. This sent Burton into a destructive spiral of drug addiction, non-violent crimes, and incarceration for nearly 20 years.
After failing to find the support needed, Burton took matters into her own hands and founded A New Way of Life. The nonprofit is a full-service operation based in South L.A. Formerly incarcerated women are provided housing, therapy, financial-literacy classes, and help with employment.
Burton’s story and resilience inspire those struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel. For her continued impact alone, she is one of the greatest female leaders in history.
Chef, restaurateur, activist, and author—is there anything Alice Waters can’t do? In a largely male-dominated world, Waters is a famous female business leader, known for making waves in the restaurant industry. Waters has a lot of achievements to her name. She received the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 and the French Legion of Honor in 2009. Waters is also the recipient of the National Humanities Medal and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.
Visit Waters’ acclaimed restaurant, Chez Panisse, to indulge in tasty, healthy, Californian food.
Not only is Luz Rivas a politician serving in the California State Assembly, she’s also a women’s education crusader. Rivas teaches young girls how to create products and code using STEM concepts. Her nonprofit DIY Girls offers intensive STEM education to young women in under-served communities. DIY Girls has made headlines several times. In 2016, the girls produced a solar-powered tent for the homeless with a $10,000 grant from MIT.
Rivas is more than just a prominent female leader. She’s actively helping the next generation of girls to become famous female leaders and take over the STEM field.
Kamala Harris made history when she became the first female Vice President of the United States in 2021. Also the first woman of color in the highest-ranking female official, Kamala is one of the most influential female leaders in U.S. history. While this is impressive enough on its own, Harris has been a trailblazer for years. The former prosecutor and ground-breaking California attorney general has enough accolades to go on and on.
Today, alongside Joe Biden, Harris is serving as the 49th Vice President of the U.S. and showing women everywhere that no dream is too big.
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