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50 of the world’s most admired female figures
50 of the world’s most admired female figures
Reader's Digest

We recently asked our readers to nominate their most admired female figures, past and present – and as usual they did not disappoint. From scientists to war heroes, activists, Nobel Prize-winners, entertainers, leaders and more, these are just a few of the most beloved and inspirational women in the world – who lead by example and have motivated countless people to strive for better in their everyday lives.

Princess Diana
Princess Diana
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“With her unique combination of vulnerability and power, Princess Diana was a movie star who didn’t have to appear in a movie, as her whole life WAS a movie. She became the patron saint of victims, the sick, the discriminated and the homeless. All ethnic, sexual and social outsiders of one type or another identified with her.” – Peggy Anderson

“Princess Diana always held her head high and proud and stood by what she was passionate about. She was the People’s Princess for a reason.” – Jayne Jeacocke

“Princess Diana is a woman I admire. A woman who had gone into a marriage where it may have been doomed from the beginning. A person who was known and loved the world over.” – Shelley Garebarski

To dive deeper, check out these 12 “facts” about Princess Diana that just aren’t true.

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey
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“Oprah Winfrey, an empathetic, street-smart woman who brings an unmatched range of people and information into people’s lives. From pop-culture icons to unknown activists from half a world away, from childhood abuse survivors, Oprah defeated poverty, bias and self-doubt by taking orders from no-one and talking to all, as equals.” – Frances Ferguson

“Oprah, because she genuinely cares about people and our world.” –Ann Burden-Smith

“Oprah Winfrey, for embracing life to the fullest regardless of race, gender, generation, opinion or belief.” – Margaret Moore

“’Turn your wounds to Wisdom’… in one sentence, Oprah Winfrey inspires minds and changes lives!” – Amanda Gorton

“Cliché, but Oprah. To come from such a background, to be so driven, so intelligent, so charismatic, so simply amazing, I find her energy, her passion, everything about her admirable and inspiring.” – Julie Vulin

Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa
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“Mother Teresa devoted her whole life to caring for the poor and the ill. Never did she put her own needs first. Always she put their needs before her own, devoting to charities and hospitals. She was an incredibly humble, caring, loving woman.” – Debra Moody

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe
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“Marilyn Monroe was beautiful and didn’t care what others thought or said.” – Nicola Potter

Fatou Bensouda
Fatou Bensouda
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Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. Every day she fights for justice for victims of genocide and crimes against humanity.” – Natalie Hodgson

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
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“The Queen has been quietly working hard with her charities and still keeping her family together and we always see her in public keeping a smile on her face. It must be hard sometimes, taking the criticism that comes with living in a slightly different type of world from the rest of us. There is strength within in all of us as females, in all walks of life, to strive to be strong but still have time to care.” – Rachel Daly

“Queen Elizabeth II is my most admired figure as she always acts ladylike. She dresses smartly, still works, never seems like she is sick to death of meeting people, and has never had any scandals about herself over all her years – and she is still married to the same man. What an amazing lady she is!” – Shirley Mastropasqua

Want to know more? Here are 16 things that will happen once Queen Elizabeth II dies, and 9 foods she would never, ever eat.

Princess Mary of Denmark
Princess Mary of Denmark
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“Worker for a wide variety of charities and causes, excellent mum to four, has used her royal status for good, fundraises for UNICEF, which was struggling to feed millions of starving Somalis.” – Andreea Nicolescu

Bette Davis
Bette Davis
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“How beautiful was Bette? And a fabulous actress. And those eyes! R.I.P.” – Michele Roe

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria
Wikimedia

“Queen Victoria oversaw so many positive changes for general life and did it when women were rated as second class. She rose above all of that and became admired by all. Easily one of the most admired women in history.” – Andrew Hicks

Turia Pitt
Turia Pitt
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“Turia Pitt for her never-give-up-on-life attitude. She received burns to 65 per cent of her body. After years of operations and pain she completed the ironman race. She got married and had a baby. She is so inspirational; no matter what the circumstances, you keep going, one step at a time.” – Rocco Cacia

Rosie the Riveter
Rosie the Riveter
Wikimedia

“Rosie the Riveter is the embodiment of all the good of a woman. Smart, takes action, a never-die attitude and mostly because she stood tall when her country needed her and led many others both in her country and out of it. She went on to inspire many other women in England, Australia and New Zealand to this day.” – Helen McMullan

Catherine McGregor
Catherine McGregor
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“Former army captain, cricket commentator, transgender representative and spokesperson. Catherine McGregor has shown that transwomen can be beautiful, eloquent and respected by the community.” – Sue McCombe

Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard
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“Julia Gillard, because even though she was harassed by the media and other politicians in regard to her dress style, they should have been concentrating on the brilliant policies she was responsible for.” – Karen Maher

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep
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“Timeless, generational, inspirational, her movies are so varied. She is always going out of her comfort zone for audience enjoyment.” – Sharon Lee Mercovich

Marie Curie
Marie Curie
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As a female scientist myself I can’t help but admire her pioneering discovery and application or radioactivity, as well the fact that she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first female professor at the University of Paris. Not forgetting her proactivity in equipping ambulances with X-ray equipment and even driving them to the frontline herself during the First World War! These would all be amazing achievements today and she did it all in the 19th century!” – Tamara Gray

“Madame Curie, as she persisted in her search and never gave up. Her achievement in winning two Nobel Prizes is remarkable.” – Rosanna Toso

Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett
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“She proved she was more than just a talented performer when she took up the position of co-creative director of the prestigious Sydney Theatre Company. Blanchett has been compared with the great Meryl Streep for her ability to portray a vast range of characters, but it is her recent work behind the scenes that has cemented her as an industry powerhouse.” – Peter Matheos

Dian Fossey
Dian Fossey
Supplied

“Dian Fossey, because she stood up for what she believed, which ultimately cost her life.” – Melissa Turner

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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“Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as she rose from modest roots to America’s Supreme Court, where she brought in a perspective benefiting American society. She demonstrates that when more people become free in their action and motivations, we all become freer in a hopeful thought process.” – Helen Baxter

Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst
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“Emmeline Pankhurst, who shaped an idea of women for our time and shook society into a pattern from which there was no return. She endured many struggles and challenges, like being jailed a dozen times, yet persevered and accomplished her dream of giving women the right to vote.” – Linda Stanton

Josephine Butler
Josephine Butler
Wikimedia

“A revolutionary feminist who forced British parliament to change the legal age of prostitutes from 13 to 16, Josephine Butler helped advance women’s opportunities in education and employment and brought forth the hypocrisy of male morality on women through the Contagious Diseases Act.” – Renee Mellinda

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
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“She was the catalyst who set in motion a series of interconnected events that gave a revolutionary twist to the 20th century’s last two decades – and helped end the millennium on a note of hope and confidence. She championed free minds and markets, helped topple the welfare state and made the world safer for capitalism.” – Denise Wagner

Emma Hart Willard
Emma Hart Willard
Wikimedia

“Encouraged intellectually by her father, Emma Hart Willard began teaching children and continued her own education. The school she started trained generations of teachers who took her message of intellectual and educational rights for women throughout America. By opening the doors of education to women, other higher education institutions became co-educational and made advanced education for women economically viable and socially acceptable. Her vision of intellectual equality was exported around the world, making schools and universities around the world become open to women.” – Casey Jensen

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Wikimedia

“Although Edward Jenner was credited for the smallpox vaccine, it was really Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who pioneered the approach in western Europe and made it acceptable to the influential, rich and powerful. Hundreds of millions of people owe their lives and health to her. Despite being born into wealth and nobility, her deep love of learning inspired her to introduce into England the Turkish practice of inoculating healthy children with a weakened smallpox strain to confer immunity from more virulent strains.” – David Cantarell

Grace Murray Hopper
Grace Murray Hopper
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“The computers everyone uses and couldn’t live without today are possible in very large part due to Grace Murray Hopper’s ground-breaking work in helping develop the first commercially viable computer. Its development made the computer a viable product and she continued her pioneering work on machine computation throughout her life, publishing more than 50 papers and receiving numerous honorary degrees.” – Lorraine Buddle

Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger
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“As the pioneer of the contraceptive pill she helped develop, Margaret Sanger’s crusade to legalise birth control spurred the movement for women’s liberation. She never abandoned her focus on women’s freedom and its larger implications for social justice. By living as if she and everyone else had the right to control their own life, she pioneered by her word and deed the 20th century’s most radical, humane and transforming political movement.” – John Coleshill

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt
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“She blazed paths for women and led the battle for social justice everywhere. She remains a powerful inspiration to civil rights and women’s movement leaders, because she shattered her ceremonial mould, reshaped it around her deep commitment to social reform, and gave a voice to people who didn’t have access to power.” – Malisa Huxley

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama
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“Michelle Obama has done so much to give strength to females, putting her support behind worthy charities and organisations. Amazing woman!” – Jane Lee

“Michelle Obama. Never once has she had a scandal and always stayed by the side of her man while creating a better world for all.” – – Daniela Agresta

Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen DeGeneres
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“Ellen DeGeneres because she stands up strongly for what she believes in, and even though she is 60 she still knows how to have fun!” – Rachel Kapsalakis

Catherine Helen Spence
Catherine Helen Spence
State Library of South Australia

“One of Australia’s first suffragettes, who fought for gender equality in what was a man’s world, it was through her (and other suffragettes) that in 1894 South Australian women won the vote, followed by Western Australia. By 1911 all Australian states had followed suit. Catherine Spence stood for office in 1897.” – Margaret McKee

Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale
National Library of Medicine

“For the difference she made to basic patient protection by insisting the doctors washed their hands – the first infection control measure put in place, making an amazing difference in patient outcomes.” – Pam Sibly

Audrey Gelman
Audrey Gelman
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“Audrey Gelman is the founder of The Wing, a place for women to meet and co-work with amenities such as a free library, women’s empowerment rallies, free childcare and regular networking events. I wish I lived in NYC to visit!” – Tammi Ireland

Hilary Clinton
Hilary Clinton
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“She stood up in the UN and demanded equal rights for women, similarly for LGBTI rights. Hilary is articulate and strong, and a leader to be reckon with.” – Anita Macartney

Quentin Bryce
Quentin Bryce
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“A wonderful wife and mother and a woman of immense intelligence who, as a lawyer and advocate, moved the women’s movement in Australia to the foreground, without one raised voice or arrogant statement. Her time as our Governor General proved that not only could a woman execute the necessary duties of the high position well, but accomplish more, and do it better, than any man had ever managed. She continues to work for disadvantaged men and women, whatever their colour, creed or situation.” – Joan De La Haye

Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks
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“She made a stand (well, she stayed seated) and changed the lives of millions.” – Christina Tregea

“Refused to give up her seat on the bus against all odds and persecutions. It takes guts to stand up for your rights!” Monica Scurlock

Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench
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“She is a fabulous actress and I just love watching any movie she is in.” – Maria Lewis

Nancy Wake
Nancy Wake
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“Has there been a braver woman? She went to Paris to party in the 1930s, but saw instead Jewish people being tortured by the Nazis and vowed to make a difference. Joining the French Resistance, she inflicted her own pain on the enemy, even killing a German sentry with her bare hands to stop him setting off an alarm. For years she smuggled food and supplies to the Allies and helped thousands of troops escape through Europe.” – Peter Matheos

Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn
Flickr

“Not only was Audrey Hepburn to be admired for her acting ability, appearance and elegant behaviour but also for the wonderful humanitarian work she carried out.” – Janice Buchter

Kylie Minogue
Kylie Minogue
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“Kylie Minogue is 50 and fabulous, still entertaining the masses, has aged gracefully and is an inspiration to women in their 50s!” – Kath Johnson Helen

Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter
Wikimedia

“Beatrix Potter is one of most amazing and admired ladies I have read about. She is known worldwide for her children’s literature and for that alone she is amazing – especially because it was at a time when earning your own living as a female was frowned upon. What most people don’t know is that she was a conservationist and with her money she purchased many farms and properties in the Lakes District. She was one of the first people to purchase land and property and left almost all of it to the National Trust, where it is protected and open for viewing to the public. Now that’s a legacy that lives on. – Diana Pettersen

Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga
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“Lady Gaga, as she is not afraid to speak her mind, stand up and support causes she believes in and is a great role model for women.” – Angela Orlick

Golda Meir
Golda Meir

“The fourth and only female Prime Minister of Israel. Born in Kiev, Russia, raised in the USA, Golda believed in equality and a free country for Israel. Elected as Prime Minister in 1969, I was a very young mum and felt elated and inspired that a woman could be recognised in such a way. Golda Meir, married throughout her political career, became known as the Iron Lady – before Margaret Thatcher – and remains a motivating factor in my life to aspire to be a stronger woman.” – Elisabeth Court

Beyonce Knowles
Beyonce Knowles
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“Beyonce – changing the world through music. A great role model, successful and beautiful!” ­– Courtney Nuttall

Sophie Delezio
Sophie Delezio
Supplied

“Sophie Delezio is more than a survivor. She’s a brave, positive, inspiring, unselfish and beautiful hero who lights up the world with her smile.” – Kirsten Wallace

Mary Ward
Mary Ward
Wikimedia

“Mary Ward lived centuries ago, when women mattered less. She stood up for us, even against the Pope, declaring wisely that, in time, women will do much. And so we have!” – Anne-Marie Moody

Elizabeth Fry
Elizabeth Fry
Wikimedia

“Elizabeth Fry for her humanitarian work in the 1800s. She cared for the homeless and promoted reform in work houses and hospitals. She visited prisons and was responsible for prison reform. She inspired women to play a larger role in society. She opened a training school for nurses and her program was an inspiration to Florence Nightingale.” – Jenny Mansbridge

Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton
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“Enid Blyton, because reading her much-maligned books was for me the beginning of a passionate love affair with literature that has continued undiminished.” – Paul Buschenhofen

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai
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“It takes massive strength and courage to survive such an attack and then go on to devote your life to improving education for women.” – Jacky Burkett

“Malala Yousafzai, because she is one of the most contemporary influential female figures encouraging the next generation of girls.” – Georgia Katounas

Sophia Loren
Sophia Loren
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“She is elegant, a great actress and just beautiful.” – Arlene Brown

Lisa Gorman
Lisa Gorman
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“Lisa Gorman is a gifted Australian designer, an inspiring animal rights activist and an industrious entrepreneur. I admire her talent, passion and fearlessly bold collections!” – Chloe Zophie

My mum
My mum
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“You probably mean someone famous or well known, but I have to say my mum, because she is an amazing woman who takes care of her family and meets any challenge head-on without complaint. I would be lucky to be half the woman/role model that she is.” – Kathryn Borg

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