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.
Boudicca, died cAD 61
Queen of the Iceni tribe during the Roman occupation of Britain. In either 60 or 61 AD Boudicca united different tribes in a Celtic revolt against Roman rule. Leading an army of around 100,000 she succeeded in driving the Romans out of modern-day Colchester (then capital of Roman Britain), London and Verulamium (St Albans). Her success led Roman emperor Nero to consider withdrawing from Britain entirely, until the Roman governor, Paullinus finally defeated her in a battle in the West Midlands. Shortly afterwards Boudicca died, probably either by suicide or through illness.
Clara Barton, 1821-1912
A nurse during the American Civil War (1861-65) Clara distributed medical supplies, worked near the front lines and treated both Union and Confederate men. Her work earned her the nickname ‘Angel of the Battlefield’. After the war she ran the Office of Missing Soldiers, helping thousands of families locate missing relatives and rebury the dead in marked graves. In 1881 Clara established the American Red Cross, serving as its president until 1904.
Emily Hobhouse, 1860-1926
Emily Hobhouse was a British welfare campaigner during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa. She raised funds for the many Boer women and children who were displaced by the war and housed by the British in overcrowded camps. After visiting the camps she submitted a report to British government highlighting the terrible conditions, which resulted in an official inquiry. Emily was one of the first women in history to successfully challenge the British government and raise social awareness for the plight of civilian populations caught up in conflict.
Florence Nightingale, 1820-1910
Florence led the first official team of British military nurses to Turkey during the Crimean War, fought between Britain and Russia (1853-56). More soldiers died from disease than wounds in this conflict and Nightingale – as well as tending the sick – reported back to the army medical services on how to reduce avoidable deaths. Nicknamed ‘the Lady with the Lamp’ for the night rounds she made tending to the wounded and sick, Nightingale continued in her work after the war and was instrumental in establishing a permanent military nursing service and implementing improvements to the army medical services.
Helen Gwynn-Vaughan, 1879-1967
A widowed university academic, Gwynne-Vaughan was appointed overseas Commander of the new Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1917. She successfully oversaw the expansion of the WAAC, arguing for better pay and living conditions. In 1918 she left to become commander of the fledgling Women’s Royal Air Force. Both auxiliary services were disbanded after the war, but both were brought back in 1938/1939 as the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Gwynne-Vaughan was commander of the ATS from 1939-41. The first woman to be awarded a military DBE, in January 1918, Dame Gwynne-Vaughan oversaw the formation of Britain’s first female auxiliary services.
Joan of Arc, 1412-31
Joan was born in 1412, nearly 80 years into the Hundred Years’ War, which had seen the English take control of a large portion of France. She convinced the future French King Charles VII that religious visions had instructed her to support him. Aged just 17 she was sent to the Siege of Orléans. When the siege was lifted shortly afterwards, Joan became a religious figurehead for a renewed French offensive, helping to achieve further French victories and advising on military strategy. Joan was eventually captured by the Burgundians and put into English custody. In 1431, she was found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake. She became a French martyr and was canonised in 1909.
Maria Bochkareva, 1889-1920
Maria was one of approximately 1,000 women who joined the Russian army in the First World War. The majority pretended to be male but Bochkareva was one of the few who didn’t hide her gender. In 1917, following the first Russian revolution, she was made commander of Russia’s first all-female Battalion of Death, at a time when no other countries permitted women in combat roles. Engineered to reinvigorate military morale, the battalion succeeded in taking German trenches on the Eastern front.
Marie Marvingt, 1875-1963
A world class sportswoman and qualified pilot, Marie worked as a Red Cross nurse during the First World War. At one point she joined the French infantry posing as a man and later joined an Italian alpine regiment. In 1915 she piloted a bombing raid over Germany and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Before the war, Marvingt had begun developing plans for an air ambulance and in the 1930s she devised training for in-flight nurses, vital work that led to a female air ambulance service in the Second World War.
Mary Seacole, 1805-81
In her late forties, Mary travelled from her home in Jamaica to Britain to offer her services as a nurse during the Crimean War (1853-56). Despite being turned down Seacole refused to give up: a woman of mixed-race with a Jamaican mother and Scottish father, she had dealt with prejudice and impediments her whole life. Funding her own passage to the Crimea Mary established the British Hotel near Balaclava. Nineteenth-century soldiers had no welfare support and Seacole’s hotel provided a comfortable retreat away from battle with accommodation for convalescents and the sick. In addition, Mary nursed wounded soldiers on the battlefield earning the title Mother Seacole.
Vera Atkins, 1908-2000
In the 1930s, Atkins and her Jewish mother emigrated to Britain from Bucharest to escape the rise of Fascism. A talented linguist, Atkins joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a branch of British Military Intelligence responsible for training and sending agents overseas. She rose from administrative roles to become an intelligence officer in the French Section of the SOE. At the end of the Second World War, as a member of the British War Crimes Commission, Atkins set out to find out what had become of the 118 SOE agents who had not made it home, establishing how and when they had died – she was able to trace all but one. Atkins was awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1948 and appointed a Commandant of the Legion of Honor in 1987.