As today is International Women’s Day, I feel this is a great time to reflect and honour some of the greatest female figures in modern history who have changed the world and fought against all odds to achieve amazing feats.
Strong female characters such as Mother Teresa, Ann Frank, Rosa Parks, Coco Chanel and JK Rowling are amongst some of the most inspirational women in history. The majority of us know their names and recognise their achievements across all genres and walks of life. Whether their fight has been for survival, dignity, equality, education or creative awareness, their accomplishments seem all the more impressive given the transient society we live in today. Given the developed world’s obsession with fashion, superficiality and media, (coupled with unpredictable political landscapes), steadfast inspiration and reliability can sometimes seem like an impossible task.
This is why the following women deserve celebrating and why figures from last century are every bit as exceptional and relevant as more recently successful females; each and every one has had their own struggle to overcome and their own message to impart to the world.
"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."
Mother Teresa, the Nobel Peace Prize winner (1979), dedicated her entire life to caring for those who were homeless, helpless and destitute through her own order "The Missionaries of Charity". Known in the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, she was an Albanian nun and missionary who worked relentlessly towards her goal of helping the poor at all costs. She continued to provide hospice for the blind, aged and disabled until ill-health - that included two heart attacks, pneumonia and malaria- forced her to stop during 1997. She died shortly after.
"Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."
During her stay in Amsterdam and hiding from the Nazi forces, Anne Frank, was given a diary by her father when she was 13. She wrote in it regularly whilst hiding in concealed rooms behind book cases whilst trapped by her circumstances. Being a Jewish girl, her family had transferred to the Netherlands to hide from the Germans. After her death in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (aged a mere 15), her diary was published. Her book ‘The Diary Of A Young Girl’ served as a unique and sometimes harrowing eye-witness account of life during Holocaust (mass murder of approximately six million Jews during World War II). It became one of the world's most read books; since having been translated into over 60 languages. Her diary continues to provide us with a valuable historical account from a first-hand point of view.
"I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free."
In her own humble words, ‘all I was doing was trying to get home from work.’ In reality, she achieved a great deal more: becoming an overnight figurehead for the civil rights movement in the US. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African-American seamstress refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on the Montgomery City bus. This one significant and daring act (with a belligerent – ‘no, I’m not’) ignited a boycott which continued for 381 days until the city repealed its law enforcing racial segregation on public buses. Rosa’s fearless rejection of racial segregation made her ‘the first lady of civil rights’. The day itself – the day she was arrested – will forever be known as Rosa Parks Day and set its mark on the history books forever,
"The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud."
Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel was founder of the famously elegant Chanel label and post war brand. In creating her unique ideal of style, she didn’t just liberate the gender expectations of her time through her business and opinions – her clothes quite literally set the female body free and by rejecting the corset, redefined it’s silhouette. By an unpredictable twist of concept, men’s clothes suddenly became women’s too: Breton tops, crewneck sweaters, trousers, flat heels and suits.
Her own figure, with a more statuesque frame, cropped dark hair and tanned skin, became a fashionable rejection of the previously accepted feminine ideal. Recognising Chanel’s contemporary and innovative style, Vogue immediately took on her little black dress and named it ‘the garçonne’ (little boy look).
Timeless, elegant and sophisticated, the Chanel brand has continued to stand the test of time and remains as popular today as it was nearly a hundred years ago. Coco Chanel is the only fashion designer to be listed in the Times Catalogue of the “20th Century’s 100 most Influential People”.
"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default."
Against all odds, JK Rowling battled through periods of abject poverty and publishers rejections whilst writing her first book for the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter; The Philosopher’s Stone burst on to the children’s literature scene in 2001, and became an overnight success. J.K. Rowling has now sold 400 million copies worldwide. Hers was a true ‘rags to riches’ story as she went on from living on benefits in the UK to becoming a multi-millionaire after her book's success within the space of five years; through sheer hard work, self-belief, determination and above all, a love for magic of words!
Today is International Women’s Day, it’s the perfect time to remind ourselves that whilst we can’t all become historical icons such as those above, we can all live with passion and courage; standing up for everything we believe in. A commitment to being the best possible versions of ourselves every day should be an achievement we can all be proud of and finding our own strengths can bring empowerment and confidence within our own right. No matter how big or small, we can all make a positive change within our lives and surrounding influences.