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.
Alice Milliat, 1884–1957
A Frenchwoman who organised, at a time when the Olympic Games had very few events for women, a multi-sport international women’s event in 1921, held in Monaco. This event, which evolved into the Women’s World Games (held four times between 1922 and 1934) attracted female competitors from France, England, Italy, Norway and Sweden, and put pressure on the International Olympic Committee, who introduced women’s athletics to the Olympics in 1928.
Annette Kellermann, 1886–1975
An Australian swimmer who combined competitive racing and distance feats with aquatic exhibitions, the forerunner of modern synchronised swimming. Kellermann successfully campaigned for rational dress in the sport, facing arrest for indecency in the US for wearing a revolutionary one-piece swimsuit. As well as popularising the modern swimming costume, Kellermann also appeared in films and wrote books and articles on swimming and health.
Fanny Blankers-Koen, 1918–2004
A Dutch track and field athlete who won four gold medals at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, along with five European Championship golds between 1946 and 1950. While the press dubbed her ‘the flying housewife’, the fact that she had two children before her 1948 triumphs helped to undermine the popular notion that being a mother and being an elite athlete were mutually exclusive.
Lily Parr, 1905–78
One of the first English women to play football professionally, and a key figure in the development of the women’s game, Parr emerged through the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies team, playing exhibition matches in Lancashire during and after the First World War. Parr played in a number of representative international matches and continued to play despite the Football Association’s ban on women’s football being played on affiliated grounds in England, in 1921. She has posthumously become an LGBT sporting icon.
Lottie Dod, 1871–1960
An accomplished English all-rounder who won numerous titles in lawn tennis and golf, an Olympic silver medal in archery, played hockey for England, and took part in skating, tobogganing and mountaineering. From her first Wimbledon title – at the age of 15 – onwards, Dod proved that women could compete to high standards in a range of sports.
Martina Bergman-Österberg, 1848–1915
A Swedish-born educationalist who revolutionised the teaching of gymnastics and physical education, Bergman-Österberg founded England’s first college for physical education instructors, which opened as a women-only institution. She also encouraged rational dress for women’s sport and helped to develop the sport of netball.
Rachael Heyhoe Flint, 1939–2017
A leading light in women’s cricket from the 1960s to the 1980s, Heyhoe Flint played in 22 test matches and 23 one-day internationals for England and helped to develop the World Cup in the women’s game, captaining England to victory in the inaugural 1973 tournament. As one of the first women to join the traditionalist Marylebone Cricket Club, she helped to change the gender balance of the game.
Sonja Henie, 1912–69
A Norwegian figure skater who dominated her sport and then moved into a successful acting career in Hollywood. At age 10 she won the Norwegian national figure-skating championship and went on to win Olympic gold medals in her sport in 1928, 1932, and 1936, along with 10 World and six European championships. The first woman figure skater to wear skirts above the knee, Henie could spin nearly 80 revolutions. After retiring in 1936, she moved to the US and combined her professional ice show with starring roles in a number of films.
Suzanne Lenglen, 1899–1938
A French tennis player who won 21 Grand Slam titles and two Olympic gold medals between 1919 and 1926. In 1920, she became the first person to win three Wimbledon championships – in singles and doubles events – in a single year. Lenglen popularised the sport with her style and flamboyance and became a fashion icon for her style of dress. She was also outspoken against tennis’s amateur restrictions and how these kept working-class people out of the sport.
Wilma Rudolph, 1940–94
An American athlete who was the first black woman to make a major impact on international track and field. She recovered from childhood polio, pneumonia and scarlet fever to win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympic Games, the first American woman to ever do so. Her post-Olympic career included goodwill ambassadorial work for the American government in Africa, as well as campaigning work for the Civil Rights movement.