BBC History Magazine’s 2018 poll listed 100 women who were voted to have had the biggest impact on world history, with scientist Marie Sklodowska Curie taking the top spot. Commenting on the result, president of the British Society for the History of Science Patricia Fara wrote: “Curie boasts an extraordinary array of achievements. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, first female professor at the University of Paris, and the first person – note the use of person there, not woman – to win a second Nobel Prize.”
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African-American activist Rosa Parks, remembered for her role in sparking the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, took second place, while social reformer Emmeline Pankhurst was voted third – her campaign for women’s suffrage being particularly topical in the centenary year of the 1918 Representation of the People Act. Historian Shrabani Basu wrote that, between them, “the top three women are the bedrock of our modern society”.
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But inevitably, with room for just 10 women from each of 10 categories nominated by experts including Jenni Murray, Suzannah Lipscomb and Tom Holland, there’s going to be plenty of debate about who missed out – and you’ve been in touch to let us know who you’d like to see included.
Who missed out?
One particularly notable omission, it seems, is Elizabeth I. Responding to the results, historian Tracy Borman wrote: “The Virgin Queen surely deserves to be in the top 20 at least. She ruled for longer and more successfully than any of her fellow Tudor monarchs.” Her call for the inclusion of ‘Gloriana’ was also echoed by historians Kate Williams and Peter Frankopan, as well as many other users on Twitter.
Others noted missing names. One was Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr (1913/14–2000), an actress and inventor whose work during the Second World War on communications technology led to the mobile phone. Also suggested was Rachel Carson (1907–64), an American biologist whose work on the natural world is widely credited with launching the environmental movement. Twitter user @deepgreenfire added: “Good to see environmental activist Wangari Maathai in at #30, though.”
On Facebook, Yue Yun commented: “The list tries to include non-Western women, but I believe the representation is not enough. In my opinion, one non-Western woman who should be added is the Tang dynasty emperor Wu Zetian, whose rule caused lasting changes in China and the Korean Peninsula.”
It's a fascinating list. Shows a good range but makes me wish we covered more history from Africa in curriculums, feels absent to large degree. Realise I know very, very little. Seems a miss.— Susserati💙n 💕 (@AKGMurray) August 9, 2018
Historian Anna Whitelock also noted a bias, writing that “the top 20 is dominated by white western women” and that while “the role of women in history is finally being acknowledged, there is some way to go before this is truly inclusive”.
Historian Greg Jenner agreed, writing on Twitter that polls such as this have “fascinating insights into cultural biases”.
The readers of @HistoryExtra have voted for their Top 100 Most Influential Women from History. https://t.co/z1LDI8Wf1L— Greg Jenner (@greg_jenner) August 9, 2018
Here are what historians are saying about their votes https://t.co/XK8UWStBpz
I find these polls fascinating insights into cultural biases
Elsewhere, @camilleosborn82 questioned on Twitter why there was no place for Irish political activist Constance Markievicz (1868–1927), who in 1918 became the first woman elected to the British Parliament, though she refused to take her seat.
This year’s poll has highlighted the remarkable achievements of 100 women from history, and has also sparked debate about which women are celebrated and commemorated, and how. The Telegraph’s Claire Cohen has even speculated who we might celebrate in the future: “If you were to compile a list of women who changed the world in, say, 50 years’ time, what would it look like?”