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      Name  Ada Lovelace
      Dates 1815-1852



      The only child of mathematician Lady Byron and the poet Lord Byron, Ada was given a broad education, always showing an interest in mathematics and its application to science. Her educational and social background brought her into contact with prominent scientists of the era.  In particular, she developed a close working relationship with Charles Babbage who is often referred to as ‘the father of computers’.

      In 1842-1843 Ada translated the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s article on Babbage’s proposed machine, the Analytical Engine. Her ‘Notes’ accompanying the article include a method for calculating a sequence of numbers using the Analytical Engine – an algorithm. Thanks to this work, Lovelace is credited as the first computer programmer and her method has been called the world’s first computer programme. She died of uterine cancer aged 36.

      Remembered for Her contributions to computer programming and her comprehension of the wider potential of computers beyond pure calculations

      “Understand well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand”



      Name Boudicca, aka Boadicea
      Dates C 30-61 AD



      Boudicca was the wife of Prasutagus, king of the Iceni tribe of Eastern England.  The Iceni were allies of the Romans who had invaded Britain in the previous century. On Prasutagus’ death, Rome forcibly took over his lands and the Iceni lost their status as allies.

      Boudicca objected to this action and with considerable skill and energy led an insurrection. Initially she met with success, storming the Roman strongholds at Camulodunum (modern Colchester), Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). However, at the Battle of Watling Street her army was defeated by the Roman legions under Suetonius. Boudicca and her daughters managed to escape but soon after poisoned themselves to evade capture.

      Other smaller insurrections continued after Boudicca’s death, but none gained the same widespread support. Though she lost her struggle, Boudicca is celebrated today as a national heroine and fighter for freedom from oppression.

      Remembered for Resisting foreign occupation 



      Name Catherine the Great
      Dates 1729-1796



      Catherine was born in what is now Szczin, Poland. Her father was a Prussian general. She met her future husband, who would become Peter III of Russia, at the age of 10 and they married in 1745 when she was 16. Their marriage was unhappy. Soon after Peter succeeded to the throne, in 1762, Catherine led a coup against him. He died in mysterious circumstances and she was crowned Empress.

      During her reign Catherine oversaw major programmes to modernise the country and improve living conditions for her people. She undertook significant reforms of the economy and financial institutions: she improved the living conditions of the poor, particularly the serfs, introduced extensive public health programmes and was a prominent patron of the arts, literature and education. Russia had grown extensively by the end of her reign, the culture had been revitalised and it was seen as one of the great powers of Europe.

      Remembered for Progressive and successful leadership of Russia

      "I praise loudly, I blame softly" 



      Name Clara Barton
      Dates 1821-1912



      Clara was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts on Christmas Day 1821. As a young adult, she became a teacher and taught in Canada and Georgia. She suffered ill health and moved to Washington DC, where she became one of the first women to work in the federal government, with a post in the US Patent Office. At the outbreak of the Civil War she risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field. After the war Barton ran the Office of Missing Soldiers. She helped to find, identify and properly bury 13,000 soldiers who died in Andersonville prison camp.

      Following a trip to Europe in 1869 she was encouraged to set up an American branch of the Red Cross. In 1881 she opened its first local Society and led it for the next 23 years. During that time the American Red Cross supported refugees, prisoners of war and the wounded in the Spanish-American War, helped flood victims in Ohio and famine sufferers in Texas, provided medical support in response to the yellow fever epidemic in 1887and opened an orphanage for children following the 1900 Galveston hurricane.

      Remembered for

      Founding the American Red Cross and being a prominent civil rights advocate


      “I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it”



      Name Cleopatra
      Dates 69BC-30BC



      One of ruling Pharaoh Ptolemy XII’s four children, Cleopatra was born in the Egyptian capital, Alexandria. After exile in Rome with her father, on his death around 51BC she and her brother succeeded him jointly, inheriting a country suffering heavy debt, lawlessness and famine due to drought. The siblings fell into warlike dispute which Julius Caesar failed to resolve by negotiation, resulting in the siege of Alexandria. Julius Caesar (with whom Cleopatra had a son meanwhile), made the siblings formal client rulers of Egypt, owing loyalty to Rome. On Caesar’s assassination, when her son failed to be named his heir, Cleopatra returned to Egypt, had her brother killed and Caesar’s son Caesarion named co-ruler.

      With the Roman Empire led by the triumvirate of Mark Antony, Octavian and Lepidus, Antony summoned Cleopatra to determine her loyalties, she invited him to Egypt and chose him as her partner for producing further heirs, while he greatly extended her kingdom. Back in Rome, this exacerbated widespread dislike of non-Roman Cleopatra’s power and fostered Octavian’s propaganda dispute with Antony. This worsened on discovery of Antony’s will naming Caesarion as Caesar’s heir and Alexandria the new capital of the Roman Empire. War ensued and Octavian’s navy defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s at the Battle of Actium. Octavian invaded Egypt, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide and Egypt was fully incorporated into the Roman Empire.
      Remembered for

      Powerful Egyptian queen, lover of Julius Caesar and of Mark Antony


      “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety” (William Shakespeare in his play ‘Antony and Cleopatra’)



      Name  Eleanor Roosevelt
      Dates 1884-1962



      She was born in Manhattan to a wealthy family. Her parents died while she was still young, leaving her prone to depression all her life. Soon after returning from England where she had been a student, she met Franklin Delano Roosevelt and they married in 1905.

      Eleanor was a major supporter of her husband’s political career, actively campaigning for him as he successfully ran for the New York State Senate, the Governorship of New York State, and the US Presidency (in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944). At the White House Eleanor redefined the role of First Lady. She was the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences, to write a syndicated column, to host a weekly radio show and to address a national party convention. She maintained a heavy travel schedule, frequently making personal morale-boosting appearances throughout the country. She was a vocal supporter of civil rights, women’s issues and humanitarian initiatives. Following her husband’s death in 1945 she continued her high profile public life, holding senior positions at the UN and averaging 150 lectures a year through the 1950’s. She was ranked the most admired living woman virtually every year between 1948 and 1961 in Gallup’s most admired men and women poll.

      Remembered for Political and social activist and diplomat

      “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”


      Name  Emily Dickinson
      Dates 1830-1886
      Nationality American

      Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily’s father wanted her to be well educated: she attended local schools and was a bright and diligent student. When her mother became increasingly bedridden in the mid-1850’s, Emily took on the role of carer and increasingly withdrew from the outside world, while still remaining, very quietly, a prolific poet and letter-writer to a circle of close friends and family.

      By 1867 she was a virtual recluse, talking to visitors from behind a door rather than face-to-face, even staying in her room with the door slightly ajar at her father’s funeral held at the family home in 1874. She continued to write, but the period was marked by the deaths of family members and friends which severely affected her own health and is evident in the themes of her work. She died after a long illness.

      Only 10 of her poems were published during her lifetime. Following her death she was discovered to have written around 1800 poems and between 1858 and 1865 made clean copies of around 800, assembling them carefully into manuscript books. Publication began, to increasing critical acclaim. Her poems have been continuously in print since 1890 and she is now considered a powerful figure in American culture.
      Remembered for Her poetry
      Quote "We turn not older with years, but newer every day"



      Name  Emmeline Pankhurst
      Dates 1858-1928
      Nationality British

      Born in Manchester to politically active parents, she involved herself in the Woman’s Suffrage Movement from an early stage. In 1903, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, an all-women suffrage advocacy organisation dedicated to ‘deeds not words’. They adopted militant tactics, including arson, property damage and hunger strikes. Following the outbreak of the First World War they ceased their militant activities to support the war effort. In 1918 a Parliamentary Act gave the vote to all women over age 30. This was extended to all women aged over 21 in 1928.

      In 1999 Time magazine named her as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating that she ’shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back’

      Remembered for Helping to secure women's suffrage

      "Trust in God - she will provide"



      Name  Gertrude Ederle
      Dates 1905-2003
      Nationality American

      She was born in New York City: her parents were German immigrants and she was the third of their six children. She was taught to swim by her father, Henry, in Highlands, New Jersey, where the family owned a summer cottage.

      In 1917, aged 12, she joined the Women’s Swimming Association (WSA) and shortly after set her first world record in the 880 yard freestyle, becoming the youngest world record holder in swimming. She subsequently set eight more world records - seven of them in 1922 at Brighton Beach. In total, she held a remarkable 29 US national and world records from 1921 until 1925.

      In 1925 she turned professional.  In the same year Ederle swam 22 miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook in a record time of 7 hours and 11 minutes, which stood for 81 years. The following year she became the first woman to swim the English Channel, in doing so beating the men’s world record by almost two hours. On returning to the US she was rewarded with a ticker tape parade in Manhattan attended by two million people. She subsequently went on to play herself in a movie and tour the vaudeville circuit. Following a serious fall in 1933, she was bedridden for several years. She had had poor hearing since childhood as a result of measles and by the 1940’s was almost completely deaf, becoming a swimming instructor for deaf children. in 1965, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.



      Name Grace Darling
      Dates 1815-1842
      Nationality English

      She was born in Bamburgh, North-East England. One of nine children, her father was a lighthouse keeper on Longstone Island, one of the remote Farne islands, and Grace helped him with his work.

      On the night of 7 September 1838, Grace spotted the paddle steamer the SS Forfarshire from the lighthouse, which had foundered on the rocks and broken in two, with one of the halves sinking. The wreck and survivors were on a nearby rocky island. Grace and her father rowed a heavy four-person boat a mile in rough seas to the wreck. Whilst she kept the 21-foot boat steady in the water, her father helped four men and the lone surviving woman into the boat.  Grace and her father then rowed them back to the lighthouse. Grace stayed at the lighthouse to look after the survivors while her father and three other men returned to rescue four more survivors.

      As news of her role in the rescue reached the public, her combination of bravery and simple virtue was hailed as exemplary, and she became a reluctant heroine. She and her father were awarded the Silver Medal for Bravery, and a fund set up to mark her achievement raised a large sum of money, including a generous donation from Queen Victoria.

      Four years after her heroic activities, she fell ill with tuberculosis and died aged 26. She is buried at her local church at Bamburgh.

      Remembered for Her heroic role in saving shipwrecked survivors

       "At the time, I believe I had very little thought of anything but to exert myself to the fullest.”




      Name Jane Austen
      Dates 1775-1817
      Nationality British

      She was born in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father was the rector (minister). From the age of 11, Jane wrote poems and stories for her and her family’s amusement. The family moved to Bath in 1800, but following her father’s death in 1805, they moved back to Hampshire, to the village of Chawton. There her success as an author commenced with the publication of her Sense & Sensibility. Other famous books followed, including Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (the latter two published posthumously). She died in Winchester, aged 41 and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.

      Remembered for Some of the most famous fiction in the English language

       "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!"




      Name Joan of Arc
      Dates 1414-1432 (est)
      Nationality French

      She was born in Northeast France to a peasant family. She said that she received visions instructing her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination late in the Hundred Years War. Her participation in the successful lifting of the Siege of Orleans was interpreted by the French forces as a sign of divine support for her. A follow-up battle at Patay resulted in further French success and further burnishment of Joan’s reputation. However, she was ambushed near Compiegne and captured by the English, put on trial for heresy, found guilty and was burnt at the stake in Rouen. Since her death she has become a semi-legendary figure. In 1803 she was declared a national symbol of France by Napoleon. She was canonised in 1920.

      Remembered for Her defence of France against England during the Hundred Years War

      "I am not afraid...I was born to do this"



      Name Maria Tallchief
      Dates 1925-2013
      Nationality Native American

      Maria was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma to Alexander Joseph Tall Chief, a member of the Osage Nation and his wife Ruth, of Scottish Irish descent and started dance classes as a small child. When her family moved to Los Angeles she took lessons from local dance teacher Ernest Belcher and later from renowned choreographer Bronislava Nijinska. After high school she moved to New York to further her dancing career, joining the leading Russian dance company in the US, the Ballet Russe, where famous choreographer George Balanchine cast her in major roles in ballets including The Firebird, the Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Orpheus. She went on to dance with the New York City Ballet and other major companies including the American Ballet Company, the Paris Opera Ballet, with whom she was the first American ballerina to perform, and the Bolshoi Ballet, where she was the first American dancer to perform at the Bolshoi Theatre.  She also performed in a musical and on television.

      On retirement as a professional ballerina in the mid-1960s Maria  stayed closely involved with dance organisations, becoming director of ballet at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and founding the Chicago City Ballet with her sister Marjorie in 1981.

      One of America’s first major prima ballerinas and the first Native American to hold that rank, Maria was accepted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996. Three years later her artistic contributions were recognised with the National Medal of Arts, the highest US award given to artists. 


      Name Marie Curie
      Dates 1867-1934
      Nationality French-Polish

      She was born and raised in Warsaw, moving aged 24 to Paris to continue her scientific studies. She and her husband won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work developing the theory of ‘radioactivity’ - a term she coined. She then also won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium, using techniques she invented for isolating radioactive isotopes. In addition to her Nobel Prizes she received numerous honorary degrees from universities across the world. Her success in overcoming barriers placed in her way as a woman in her field has made her a feminist heroine.

      Remembered for Being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first and only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields.
      Quote "Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood"



      Name Mary Eliza Mahoney
      Dates 1845-1926
      Nationality American

      She was born in 1845 in Boston, the daughter of freed slaves from North Carolina who had moved north in search of a life with less racial discrimination. Mary Eliza attended one of the first integrated schools, joining the New England Hospital for Women and Children at 18 and undertaking a variety of roles before being accepted into its nursing school aged 33. Of the 42 students who entered the rigorous and demanding programme, only Mahoney and three other students completed it, making her the first African American in the US to earn a professional nursing license.

      Thereafter Mahoney worked principally as a private care nurse, building a reputation for efficiency and professionalism while working to change the way African American nurses were treated. She actively promoted nursing as a career, especially for women of color and co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses to provide support and encouragement.  She retired from nursing after some 40 years in the profession but stayed active in women’s and civil rights issues.  Recipient of several major awards, Mahoney was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame in 1976 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

      Remembered for Being the first African-American licensed nurse.



      Name Mary Ellis
      Dates 1917-2018
      Nationality British

      Mary’s family home was near Royal Air Force (RAF) bases in Oxfordshire and she was intrigued by flying from an early age. By the age of 16 she was taking flying lessons, quickly gaining her private pilot’s licence.

      Following the outbreak of the Second World War she volunteered to join the Air Transport Authority to fly planes from Royal Air Force airfields to the front line or from aircraft factories to airfields. She flew more than 70 different types of aircraft, including Spitfires, Hurricanes and Wellington bombers. In addition to the need for great skill and courage (ATA planes flew without radio communications) she and other women pilots faced other hurdles.  On one occasion, following her single-handed safe landing of a Wellington, the disbelieving ground crew searched the plane looking for the male pilot whom they believed had flown it!  

      After the war Mary continued to ferry aircraft, becoming one of the first women to fly Britain’s first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor.  Between 1950 and 1970 she was manager of Sandown Airport on the Isle of Wight and founded the Isle of Wight Aero Club.  Away from the airport she enjoyed fast cars, winning several sports car rallies, and was still driving daily to local shops aged 100.



      Name Queen Elizabeth 1st
      Dates 1533-1603
      Nationality British

      Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, executed two years after Elizabeth’s birth. Henry ensured that Elizabeth received a broad education – unusual for a female child at the time  - including learning several languages.

      She succeeded to the throne in 1588 aged 25 on her half-sister Mary’s death. While working closely with her trusted advisers led by William Cecil, she made it clear that she would not relinquish her power to others. She reverted the country to Protestantism from its Catholicism under Mary. Her foreign policy was largely defensive, publicly at least: she sought to avoid major conflicts. In private, however, she encouraged naval sallies against Spain and turned a blind eye to aggressive actions by individual seafarers, such as Francis Drake.

      Domestically, she was the first Tudor to recognise that a monarch ruled by popular consent and that pragmatism was often the best approach.  Following her death a cult of personality grew around her and her “Elizabethan Era” was hailed for its seafaring prowess and the flourishing of the arts, which she fostered. Intelligent and manipulative , Elizabeth I is generally perceived to be a skilled leader  who successfully played off the factions surrounding her against each other, creating a level of political and social stability little experienced under previous rulers.



      Name Sacagawea
      Dates 1788-1812 (or possibly 1884)
      Nationality Native American

      Whilst reliable historical information about major aspects of Sacagawea’s life is limited, including even the spelling of her name, it is known she was born around 1788 into the Lemhi Shoshone tribe near the present-day Idaho-Montana border. In her early teens she was taken captive and entered into a non-consensual marriage with the considerably older Toussaint Charbonneau.

      When she was around 16 years old she met the Lewis and Clark expedition which was crossing the newly acquired western portion of the country after the Louisiana Purchase and seeking help with guiding, interpreting, acquiring local knowledge and negotiating. She subsequently travelled thousands of miles with the expedition to and from the Pacific Ocean, providing intelligence, interpreting and other practical assistance. Her presence with her infant son in the expedition party also helped to convey its peaceful intentions. The high regard in which Sacagawea was held is reflected in Clark’s agreement after the expedition’s completion to supervise her son’s education and, later, to be legal guardian to both him and Sacagawea’s daughter.

      There is some uncertainty about her death, but it seems probable that she died in 1812 of an unknown sickness.  The National American Woman Suffrage Association of the early 20th century adopted her as a symbol of women’s worth and independence, erecting several statues and plaques in her memory.



      Name Toni Morrison
      Dates 1931-2019
      Nationality American

      Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, Toni (Chloe)graduated from Howard University in 1953 with a BA in English, and from Cornell University with a master’s degree in American literature. After teaching English at Texas Southern and Howard, she moved to New York in the mid 1960’s, becoming the first black female fiction editor at Random House. There she played a major role in publishing Black literature and fostering a new generation of Afro-American writers. 

      Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970, followed by Sula (1973) and Song of Solomon (1977), the latter winning the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1987 she published her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved. Following further publishing success, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993. Television talk show host Oprah Winfrey championed Morrison’s work: when her Book Club selected The Bluest Eye in 2000, it sold another 800,000 copies.

      Morrison continued to write, teach and lecture into her 80’s. In 2012 President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a year after her death in 2019 aged 88 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

      Remembered for Novelist, essayist, book editor and professor 
      Quote "We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives."



      Name Xun Guan
      Dates 303 (est.)
      Nationality Chinese

      She was born around 303, the daughter of Xun Song, governor of Xiangyang and a senior official in the West Jin Dynasty (265-316AD). When she was 13, one of her father’s officials, Du Zeng, surrounded the city of Xiangyang with soldiers in an attempt to overthrow him in a revolt.

      With supplies depleting, the city’s defenders knew they had to break through enemy lines to request help and supplies.  This was a highly dangerous mission and no-one stepped forward to lead the effort. When Xun Song said he would undertake it himself, his 13-year old daughter Xun Guan said he should stay with his people and instead she would go. Skilled in martial arts, she successfully persuaded her reluctant father to let her go and, accompanied by a small group of soldiers,  passed  through the enemy’s lines to  reach the city of Pingnan. There  she secured troop reinforcements and persuaded others to join her cause. Together they marched back to Xiangyang, attacked Du Zeng’s troops on two fronts, forced  them to disperse and thereby saved the city.

      Even younger than Joan of Arc, France’s teenage warrior heroine, Xun Guan is viewed as one of China’s greatest and bravest soldiers.

      Remembered for Bravery and leadership


      We so enjoyed researching heroines of history! We learnt more about those familiar names and discovered so very many more women who have done amazing things and contributed so much to our modern life and health. We hope you have fun learning about all the women we’ve featured and also discovering more heroines of your own – we’ve left spaces on the tablecloth for you to add in anyone you admire…could be someone in your own family or friendship group, someone more widely known  or someone you have discovered. There are a number more women we’d love to have included ourselves, but because of the way even their names have been covered by copyright we were sadly unable to add them to the party – though they are there in our hearts.  But you can add anyone you like – so please go ahead and enjoy and celebrate these fabulous heroines of history.