100 women: Religion & Philosophy

Nominated by historian and author Tom Holland. Tom's books include Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic (Little, Brown). He is also presenter of BBC Radio 4's Making History and has written and presented a number of TV documentaries, on subjects ranging from religion to dinosaurs

Mary Wollstonecraft.(Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)

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.

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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.


Aisha, c613/614 – 678

The third wife of the Prophet Muhammad and daughter of Abu Bakr, the first caliph, Aisha is commemorated by Sunni Muslims as the “Mother of the Believers”.

Andrea Dworkin, 1946-2005

Feminist author Andrea Dworkin, sitting in her study at home. (Photo by William Foley/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Andrea Dworkin. (Photo by William Foley/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

One of the most controversial of modern feminist thinkers, the very radicalism of Dworkin’s writings on heterosexuality and pornography (the latter she believed to be a weapon used by men to control women) has ensured that her influence on contemporary debates on gender – while massive – has tended to be occluded.

Catherine of Siena, 1347-80

Catherine of Siena. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Catherine of Siena. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

A mystic and ascetic who in the aftermath of the Black Death played a key role in the campaign to reform the Catholic Church, and return the papacy from Avignon to Rome. She was canonised by Pope Pius II in 1461.

Elizabeth Fry, 1780-1845

Elizabeth Fry. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Elizabeth Fry. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The so-called ‘Angel of Prisons’, Fry was an English Quaker who led the campaign in the Victorian period to make conditions for prisoners more humane. She also helped to improve the British hospital system and treatment of the insane.

Hypatia, c355– 415

Hypatia. (Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images)
Hypatia. (Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images)

An Alexandrian mathematician, astronomer and philosopher whose murder in AD 415 led to her being enshrined during the Enlightenment as a martyr for philosophy. She is the first female mathematician of whose life and work we have reasonably detailed knowledge.

Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-97

Mary Wollstonecraft.(Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)
Mary Wollstonecraft.(Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)

An English writer and philosopher Wollstonecraft championed education and liberation for women. Her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was published in 1792 and is seen as one of the foundational texts of modern feminism. Written against the backdrop of the French Revolution, it argued for the equality of women to men.

 

Prophet Deborah, c12th century BC

Deborah. (Photo by Chris Hellier/Corbis via Getty Images)
Deborah. (Photo by Chris Hellier/Corbis via Getty Images)

Commemorated in the Book of Judges as a prophet of Yahweh, god of the Israelites, the song attributed to her is widely considered to be one of the oldest passages in the Bible, thought to date to the 12th century BC.

Simone de Beauvoir, 1908-86

Simone de Beauvoir. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Simone de Beauvoir. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

De Beauvoir’s publication, in 1949, of The Second Sex had a decisive influence on the evolution of post-war feminism. Her declaration that “one is not born but becomes a woman” continues to reverberate in contemporary discussions of gender.

The Virgin Mary, 1st-century BC

The Virgin Mary. (Photo by Ashmolean Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
The Virgin Mary. (Photo by Ashmolean Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

The mother of Jesus, Mary is venerated by both Christians and Muslims, and is proably the most famous woman in history. The actual details of her life are veiled as much as they are elucidated by the New Testament.

 Yeshe Tsogyal, 757–817

The Sage Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) with his two consorts, Mandarava and Yeshe Tsogyal. (Photo by Sabena Jane Blackbird / Alamy Stock Photo)
The Sage Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) with his two consorts, Mandarava and Yeshe Tsogyal. (Photo by Sabena Jane Blackbird / Alamy Stock Photo)
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A Tibetan princess who in the 8th century had a defining influence on the development of Buddhism. She is commemorated by her followers as a female Buddha, and named the Victorious Ocean of Wisdom.

Voting is now closed. View the results of the poll HERE.