This year marks the centenary of one of the most important landmarks in modern British history: the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the right to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time.
In honour of this milestone, we launched a poll to discover the women you think have done the most to shape the world around them. There were 100 women to choose from – nominated by 10 historians, who have each selected 10 women they feel are the most important – from science, technology and sport, to politics and literature.
Voting is now closed, view the results of the poll HERE.
Ada Lovelace, 1815–52
A gifted mathematician, Ada Lovelace is considered to be the first computer programmer, an industry that has since transformed business, our lives and the world. In an industry still dominated by men, it’s particularly striking that the first programmer was a woman.
Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1814-1906
The first woman to have been made a peer, Burdett-Coutts was made a baroness by Queen Victoria for her work on behalf of the poor. Prevented from working at Coutts Bank despite inheriting her grandfather Thomas Coutts’ shares and fortune, Burdett-Couttsinstead devoted her time – working with a Coutts client Charles Dickens – to philanthropy. She was a pioneer in social housing, building homes for the poor, and financed numerous projects, including the redevelopment of East London.
Anna Jacobson Schwartz, 1915–2012
Co-author of the seminal book that changed our understanding of the Great Depression and how to prevent it from happening again. A Monetary History of the United States: 1867-1960, written with Nobel Prize laureate Milton Friedman, showed that it was monetary policy that caused the Great Crash of 1929 and the subsequent drastic depression.
Beulah Louise Henry, 1887–1973
Known as Lady Edison for her prolific inventions (after the famous inventor Thomas Edison), Henry is credited with more than 100 inventions including the vacuum ice cream freezer and a bobbin-free sewing machine. She founded two of her own companies and served as a consultant to several others.
Elinor Ostrom, 1933–2012
The only woman to have won the top prize in Economics, Ostrom trained as a political scientist after she was rejected for an Economics PhD because she lacked maths training. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2009, shared with Oliver Williamson, for her work that showed how commonly owned property such as forests can be used cooperatively and not over-used as economists assumed.
Estée Lauder, 1908–2004
Founder of a global cosmetics company, Lauder started her eponymous business with her husband in 1946. Known for her marketing acumen, she built a beauty empire – including brands such as Bobbi Brown and Clinique – which eventually made her one of the richest self-made women in the world.
Joan Robinson, 1903–83
One of the most influential female economists of the 20th century, Joan changed our understanding of labour markets showing that by recognising imperfections in markets, we can address hidden unemployment and low wages. In 1979 she became the first woman to be made an honorary fellow of King’s College.
Katharine Graham, 1917–2001
Publisher of the Washington Post from 1969–79, Graham was the first female publisher of a major American newspaper after she took the helm of the Washington Post Company in 1963 after the death of her husband. Graham was also the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company after taking the company public in 1972. In 1971, she oversaw the publication of the Pentagon Papers and coverage of the Watergate scandal that toppled President Nixon.
Ruth Handler, 1916–2002
President of Mattel, a company she co-founded with her husband in 1945 and which was originally based out of their garage in California. In 1959, the company launched the Barbie doll, the brainchild of Ruth Handler and one of the first dolls made that looked like a grown up. Within six years of Barbie’s launch, Mattel had become a Fortune 500 company.
Sarah Breedlove, 1867–1919
The first self-made female millionaire in America, Breedlove developed a line of beauty and hair products for African-Americans. Her Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company made her one of the most successful African-American business owners in history.