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.
Aphra Behn, c1640–89
Apparently prompted to turn to writing after incurring debt from being imprisoned for espionage, Behn was one of the first women in England to earn a living from the profession. Her work was to prove hugely influential, both on literature and for future generations of female writers.
Artemisia Gentileschi, 1593–c1656
An accomplished painter in a period of Italy’s history when women weren’t always welcomed by patrons or fellow artists, Gentileschi generated both critical praise and international success. Her portraits of strong, suffering women represent, for some, the trials she faced in her personal and professional life.
Clara Schumann, 1819–1896
One of the foremost pianists of the Romantic period, Schumann’s career began as a child prodigy and spanned more than six decades. Her works include concertos, quartets and songs, and she also taught generations of piano students in Frankfurt.
Fanny Mendelssohn, 1805–47
A German composer and pianist whose hundreds of works include songs, sonatas and a piano trio. The oldest of four children, including fellow composer Felix, her output is praised by critics for its energy and melodicism.
Fanny Burney, 1752–1840
An English novelist and playwright whose self-described “scribblings” were lauded for her skill with satire and caricature. Warm, witty and observant, her work offers valuable insights into high society in 18th-century England.
Jane Austen, 1775–1817
One of the most famous figures in British history, Austen’s novels have gone on to become literary sensations. Often lacing plots exploring marriage, status and social sensibility with a distinctive irony, her works have been adapted many times in plays, films and TV series.
Ethel Smyth, 1858–1944
An English author, composer and campaigner for women’s rights, Smyth composed the song that was to become the anthem of the suffrage movement. She was awarded a damehood in 1922 for her work in the fields of music and literature.
Coco Chanel, 1883–1971
Chanel emerged from a difficult, nomadic childhood in France to become an internationally famous designer, whose eponymous brand spans fashion, jewellery and perfume. Her importance and contributions to female fashion is complicated by her suspected collaboration with German intelligence operations during the Second World War.
Frida Kahlo, 1907-54
A Mexican artist whose striking, distinctive works combine an exploration of gender, class and identity with symbols from the nation’s cultural history, Kahlo has gone on to become an important figure for social causes including feminism and LGBTQ rights.
Gwen John, 1876-1939
Born in the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire, John’s quiet, understated demeanour and style of painting were often overshadowed by that of her brother, Augustus. Subsequent reappraisals of her life and career have instead revealed a talented artist whose work is increasingly influential.