From Pankhurst to Pink: 100 of the most inspiring women from the last 100 years

To mark International Women's Day 2024, we've compiled a list of the 100 most inspirational women from the last century.

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To mark Women's History Month, we have compiled a list of the 100 most inspirational women from the last century. From Emmeline Pankhurst to Pink, these are the women who have challenged, shaped and smashed the status quo.

Over the last 100 years, the role and rights of women have changed beyond all recognition. But, one thing that has stayed constant is the sheer number of awe-inspiring women that exist all over the world. To celebrate Women's History Month, we've made a list of the 100 most inspirational women from the last century. Some are feminist mainstays, some are relative unknowns and some are controversial - but they all changed the world. From badass suffragettes to modern day activists, from trailblazing politicians to Hollywood royalty - here are 100 of the most inspirational women from the last 100 years.

Marie Claire's 100 most inspirational women


100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: Emmeline Pankhurst, Josephine Baker, Marie Curie and Mary Pickford

Who: Emmeline Pankhurst Why she inspires us: Although she wasn't perfect, she demanded equality for woman as the leader of the suffragette movement. Her efforts led to the vote being granted to some women (those over the age of 30 who owned property or were married to a man who owned property) in 1918. What she taught us: Underestimate the power of a fearless woman at your peril - suffragettes threw themselves under horses, chained themselves to railings and starved themselves for the right to vote.

Who: Gertrude Ederle Why she inspires us: Ederle was the first woman to swim the English Channel – and she did it wearing motorcycle goggles… What she taught us: True grit: ‘I knew it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it.'

Who: Helen Keller Why she inspires us: Having lost her sight and hearing at a young age, Keller defied expectations to achieve a bachelor’s degree and inspired generations as an activist for disability rights. What she taught us: Keller refused to live life as a typical 'invalid'. In her own words: ‘Life is either a great adventure or nothing.’

Who: Bessie Coleman Why she inspires us: Prevented from holding a pilot’s licence in the US due to the fact that she was both black and a woman, Coleman moved to France and became the first woman of African-American and Native American descent to earn an aviation pilot's licence. What she taught us: Sometimes, thinking outside the box and bending the rules is the best way to achieve your dreams.

Who: Virginia Woolf Why she inspires us: Writing Mrs Dalloway, where she skewered the role of 'the perfect housewife' and sowed the seeds for the feminist movement of the 1970s. What she taught us: Speak your truth and you could inspire generations of writers.

Who: Josephine Baker Why she inspires us: Baker was an American triple-threat who found fame away from racial prejudice in France, but returned to her homeland to fight racism with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). What she taught us: Baker lived life on her own terms: from her scandalous vaudeville shows to her views on racial inequality, she knew her own mind.

Who: Mary Pickford Why she inspires us: Not only was Pickford the Queen of the Movies in the 1920s, she also co-founded two Hollywood studios along with her husband. What she taught us: Success takes tenacity as well as talent - Pickford was known for taking almost any role offered to her to increase her reputation.

Who: Marie Curie Why she inspires us: Curie was a pioneering, two-time Nobel prize winning scientist, whose research into radioactivity saved countless lives. What she taught us: Perseverance: Curie was unable to attend University in Poland (because she was a woman) so decided to up sticks and move to Paris, just to continue her education.

Who: Anna Freud Why she inspires us: Freud was a celebrated psychoanalyst and founded a nursery in London to look after babies and children who had been separated from their families during the Second World War. What she taught us: A difficult childhood, where Freud was forced to flee Vienna and the Nazis and suffered mental health issues, did not prevent her from flourishing later in life.

Who: Joan Beauchamp Procter Why she inspires us: The first female curator of reptiles at London Zoo, Procter was a world-renowned zoologist and an expert in snakes and lizards. What she taught us: When in doubt, bring a crocodile to school (Joan, aged 16).


100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: Mary McLeod Bethune, Shirley Temple, Amelia Earhart and Hattie McDaniel

Who: Hattie McDaniel Why she inspires us: McDaniel was the first African-American actor to break the colour barrier and receive an Oscar for her portrayal of 'Mammy' in Gone With The Wind (despite this, the hotel where the ceremony was held had a 'No Blacks' rule). What she taught us: How to pave the way for Hollywood’s (slow) march towards greater diversity - the next black actress to win an Oscar came almost 50 years later (Halle Berry for Monster's Ball in 2002)

Who: Mary McLeod Bethune Why she inspires us: Civil rights campaigner who sought better educational opportunities for African-American girls. What she taught us: Known as the ‘First Lady of the Struggle’, McLeod never rested in her fight for civil rights even when it seemed like the whole country was against her.

Who: Amelia Earhart Why she inspires us: Queen of the Air, Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. What she taught us: To do everything in your power to achieve your dream, from little things such as sleeping in your leather jacket to make it seem 'worn' to daring to fly across oceans solo.

Who: Elizabeth Cowell Why she inspires us: She was the first female announcer on British television and her voice reached millions across the country. What she taught us: How to succeed in a male dominated industry (and how to do it with THE most cut-glass accent).

Who: Jane Addams Why she inspires us: Known as the ‘Mother of social work’, Addams was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her advancement of the cause of pacifism and was described as a 'threat to national security' due to her opposition of US involvement in World War I. What she taught us: Stay true to your ideals: Addams served as president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom until 1929 and then as honorary president for the rest of her life.

Who: Eleanor Roosevelt Why she inspires us: Roosevelt wasn’t your average First Lady due to her vocal support of the rights of African-Americans and women's rights - much to the chagrin of many at the time. What she taught us: ‘Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.’

Who: Shirley Temple Why she inspires us: After a lucrative career as a child actress, Temple’s role as a breast cancer awareness pioneer in later life may have saved thousands of lives. What she taught us: Speak up about the issues that affect you: you'll probably find out that you are not alone and may save a life in the meantime.

Who: Lilian Wyles Why she inspires us: Wyles was a pioneer in the inclusion of women in the Met Police and for the more sensitive treatment of female victims of sexual assaults, for example by making sure that female police officers took their statements. What she taught us: Use your power to protect those that can’t protect themselves.

Who: Maria Montessori Why she inspires us: Creator of a new system of education which focused on the science of child development, Montessori's work with disabled children and the slum children of Rome set her apart from your average educator. What she taught us: Children deserve choice, liberty and the best education possible, regardless of their backgrounds or the advantages life has given them.

Who: Georgia O’Keeffe Why she inspires us: The ‘Mother of American Modernism’, O’Keeffe rejected her traditional training and created a brand new artistic movement. What she taught us: Trust your instincts : from skyscrapers to cow's skulls, O'Keeffe had the power to transform everyday objects into American icons.


100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: Gwendolyn Brooks, Hedy Lamarr, Noor Inayat Khan and Vera Lynn

Who: Hedy Lamarr Why she inspires us: Actress and scientist, her work on a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes during World War Two contributed to the development of modern Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology. What she taught us: Beauty and brains are never mutually exclusive.

Who: Sophie Scholl Why she inspires us: German student and member of the anti-fascist White Rose Movement, Scholl was executed for her anti-Nazi beliefs. What she taught us: No matter how high the stakes, we must fight for the oppressed - if 22 year old Sophie can die for her beliefs, we can call out racism too.

Who: Vera Lynn Why she inspires us: Singer who brought joy to UK forces during World War Two with hits including We'll Meet Again and The White Cliffs of Dover. What she taught us: The importance of music for morale and the soul and how one person can bring happiness to so many.

Who: Naomi Parker Fraley Why she inspires us: Her steely determination on the rallying ‘We Can Do It’ wartime poster inspired a generation of American women to help with the war effort. What she taught us: To get behind causes you truly believe in.

Who: Noor Inayat Khan Why she inspires us: The first Muslim female war hero, Khan was an undercover operative in France who was betrayed by her colleagues, tortured and executed but never gave away any Allied secrets. What she taught us: To stand up for what you believe in: Khan refused to betray her non-violent principles but still actively opposed Nazi tyranny.

Who: Baroness Trumpington Why she inspires us: The Baroness was a code breaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War and at the age of 91, she tried to attend the House of Lords every day. What she taught us: To take no nonsense: the video of her flicking a V sign at a fellow peer in House of Lords after he called her old never fails to make us crack up.

Who: Irena Sendler Why she inspires us: Sometimes known as the female Schindler, this Polish nurse smuggled thousands of Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto (and away from certain death) throughout the early 1940s. What she taught us: No matter the circumstances, we must always do what’s right - Sendler's actions risked her own life, as well as that of her family and friends, and yet she knew what she had to do.

Who: Judy Garland Why she inspires us: The youngest recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in the film industry, Garland shone on stage and screen despite her tragic life off-camera, which was dominated by heartbreak and addiction issues. What she taught us: To show off our authentic selves: ‘Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.’

Who: Gwendolyn Brooks Why she inspires us: Alongside her roles as a poet and teacher, Brooks was the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry Annie Allen, which narrated the youth of an African-American girl. What she taught us: Sometimes you have to tell people something they don't want to hear. As Brooks put it: ‘Truth tellers are not always palatable’.

Who: Eleanor Lambert Why she inspires us: As well as managing artists such as Jackson Pollock and Jacob Epstein, Lambert was the co-founder of MoMa and of the first New York Fashion Week What she taught us: Fashion is an art-form and designers from all over the world should be celebrated: her 1973 'Battle of Versailles' fashion show proved this when it pitted American designers against their French counterparts.


100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: Ella Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe, Rosalind Franklin and Rose Heilbron QC

Who: Marilyn Monroe Why she inspires us: Master of reinvention, Monroe’s combination of beauty and business know-how made her unforgettable. What she taught us: How to be a cultural icon 101 (and how to make Happy Birthday To You the sexiest song in the world).

Who: Bettie Page Why she inspires us: Boundary-pushing model known for her erotically-charged pin up photos, Page has achieved a cult following in the last twenty years. What she taught us: Women should celebrate their sexuality - one woman's idea of crude is another's idea of prude.

Who: Edith Summerskill Why she inspires us: MP who campaigned for the equal rights of all women, regardless of their marital status. What she taught us: Through her ‘Letters to my daughter’, Summerskill made us question the status quo of gender roles - her views on how many women have managed to achieve despite the limitations put upon them by society were way ahead of their time.

Who: Rosalind Franklin Why she inspires us: Largely overlooked member of the team who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. What she taught us: We have to celebrate our achievements, even when others don't (or, in this case, try to deliberately ignore your contribution).

Who: Queen Elizabeth II Why she inspires us: Ascending to the throne aged just 25, Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning British monarch and female head of state. What she taught us: To always move with the times - HRH has endured almost every life event thinkable during her tenure on the throne and remained adored by the British public.

Who: Grace Lee Boggs Why she inspires us: Boggs was a hugely respected civil rights and labour rights activist, particularly focusing her work in the US auto-mobile hub of Detroit. What she taught us: Being a good person takes work and dedication: ‘Love isn’t about what we did yesterday; it’s about what we do today and tomorrow and the day after.’

Who: Ella Fitzgerald Why she inspires us: After a traumatic childhood, Fitzgerald rose to become the first African-American woman to win a Grammy award in 1959. What she taught us: Fitzgerald brought jazz music and the Great American songbook to a whole new audience with her unbeatable voice and distinctive scat style.

Who: Grace Kelly Why she inspires us: Ingénue, Hitchcock favourite and later Princess of Monaco. What she taught us: Quite simply, life really can sometimes be a fairytale.

Who: Sheila Van Damm Why she inspires us: Leading competitor in motor rallying and, proving that her interests were to say the least extremely varied, one-time owner of London's Windmill Theatre. What she taught us: Life can be great in the fast lane.

Who: Rose Heilbron QC Why she inspires us: One of the first two women to be appointed King’s Counsel and first woman to lead in an English murder trial. What she taught us: Sometimes, the best way to prove yourself is through both your actions and words: one of Heilbron's 'clients', a notorious gangster, described her as 'the greatest lawyer in history'.


100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Yoko Ono and Mary Quant

Who: Yoko Ono Why she inspires us: Ono was a radical performance artist and collaborator with John Lennon - one of her earlier works involved Ono dressed in her best suit, kneeling on a stage with a pair of scissors in front of her, after which she instructed audience members to join her on stage and cut her clothing off. What she taught us: ‘All we are saying is give peace a chance’.

Who: Rosa Parks Why she inspires us: Parks was an NAACP secretary, civil rights activist and ‘Mother of the Movement’. What she taught us: ‘Each person must live their life as a model for others’. Parks certainly showed this when she refused to give up her seat for a white man, which sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott - an important symbol of the civil rights movement.

Who: Helen Bamber Why she inspires us: Bamber was a prominent anti-torture campaigner, who worked with Holocaust survivors in the 1940s and was the first president of Amnesty International in Britain. What she taught us: Human rights are universal and must be preserved at all costs.

Who: Indira Gandhi Why she inspires us: Gandhi was the only female Prime Minister of India, and forged the historic 1972 Simla agreement to end war between India and Pakistan. What she taught us: ‘Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave’ - after the bloody post-Partition conflict between India and Pakistan, Gandhi needed to inhabit these words to ensure any of hope of peace.

Who: Valentina Tereshkova Why she inspires us: Her humble origins as a textile worker, her enthusiasm for parachuting and the fact that she was the first woman to go into space. What she taught us: Keep reaching for your next goal - Tereshkova’s has spoken of her future ambition to travel to Mars.

Who: Dame Judi Dench Why she inspires us: Confirmed national treasure, Dame Judi has acted consistently for over 60 years and, contrary to popular belief, originated the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret. What she taught us: The role doesn’t matter; only the performance: Judi's Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her eight minutes of screen time in Shakespeare in Love proves this rather well.

Who: Barbra Streisand Why she inspires us: She's a singer, actress and member of the (unofficial) exclusive EGOT club, for people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. What she taught us: Strive for perfection: ‘I've been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good.’

Who: Audrey Hepburn Why she inspires us: There was nothing Audrey Hepburn couldn't do: she was a humanitarian, dancer, actress and member of the Dutch Resistance. What she taught us: Endless optimism: 'Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible!’'

Who: Coretta Scott-King Why she inspires us: Civil rights leader in the 50s and 60s and worthy partner of the architect of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. What she taught us: To work for all victims of oppression, whether they are discriminated against for their race, sexuality or gender.

Who: Maya Angelou Why she inspires us: Author of the seminal autobiography ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ and civil rights activist. What she taught us: ‘I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’


100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: Vivienne Westwood, Kate Bush, Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis

Who: Margaret Thatcher Why she inspires us: Daughter of a greengrocer, Thatcher rose through the political ranks to become Britain’s first female prime minister. What she taught us: A controversial figure, Thatcher lived up to her nickname of ‘The Iron Lady’ through her refusal to back down during the Miners' Strikes or in the Falklands conflict.

Who: Germaine Greer Why she inspires us: Author of The Female Eunuch, Greer was a leading voice in the second-wave feminist, but her current views on inclusive feminism are unfortunately anything but progressive. What she taught us: To liberate ourselves from the oppression of the patriarchy.

Who: Angela Davis Why she inspires us: Davis was an American political activist, former leader of the Communist Party USA and author. What she taught us: We have to stand up and be counted to get change, no matter the personal cost.

Who: Jayaben Desai Why she inspires us: Leader of the strikes in the Grunwick factory dispute, where groups of workers of predominately South Asian heritage went on strike to protest unfair working conditions. What she taught us: To never ignore the role women of colour have played in the history of feminism.

Who: Gloria Steinem Why she inspires us: American feminist, journalist and social political activist, whose undercover journalism as a Playboy bunny is still the gold standard for a first-person exposé. What she taught us: ‘The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.’

Who: Kate Bush Why she inspires us: Her debut single Wuthering Heights was the UK’s first No.1 single written by a woman and hit the top spot when Bush was just 19. What she taught us: To take charge of our careers and own our decisions - Bush had to push hard to get Wuthering Heights to be the lead single. The rest, as they say, is history.

Who: Pam Grier Why she inspires us: Grier did many of her own stunts whilst starring in the groundbreaking blaxploitation films of the 70s and is a huge philanthropist, with causes close to her heart including animal rights and HIV/AIDs charities. What she taught us: For her ability to kick ass, take names and look achingly cool whilst doing so, Grier has been called the first female action star.

Who: Gilda Radner Why she inspires us: Part of Saturday Night Live’s original line-up, her tragic death from ovarian cancer raised awareness of the disease and prevented many other women from suffering the same fate. What she taught us: Women are funny. No ifs, ands or buts needed.

Who: Katharine Graham Why she inspires us: First ever-female CEO of a Fortune 500 company and editor of the Washington Post - Meryl Streep is currently portraying her in blockbuster The Post. What she taught us: ‘To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?’

Who: Cilla Black Why she inspires us: Cilla had a successful singing career, was pals with the Beatles and was a Saturday night institution as the much loved presenter of Blind Date. What she taught us: Sometimes the best way to get through life is with ‘a lorra lorra laughs.’


100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: Diane Abbott, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and Jane Fonda

Who: Madonna Why she inspires us: The Queen of Pop is also the queen of reinvention, best selling female recording artist of all time and responsible for bringing voguing to the mainstream. What she taught us: ‘I’m tough, I’m ambitious and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.’

Who: Julie Bindel Why she inspires us: Radical feminist and co-founder of the law-reform group Justice for Women, which supports victims of domestic violence. What she taught us: To protect our fellow sisters (but not just our cis-ters).

Who: Oprah Winfrey Why she inspires us: Oprah is the ultimate media mogul: she is a talk show host, motivational speaker and philanthropist amongst tens of other careers. What she taught us: Women can be successful impresarios (although with her estimated net worth at $2.8 billion, we'd say Oprah is slightly more than just successful).

Who: Wangaari Mathaai Why she inspires us: Mathaai was the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, which was for 'contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.' What she taught us: The power of grass roots movements – together, women are powerful.

Who: Diane Abbott Why she inspires us: British Labour Party politician and first black woman to hold a seat in the House of Commons when elected as an MP in 1987. What she taught us: Her 2008 House of Commons speech against 42-day pre-charge detention is spine-tingling in its truthfulness and brilliance.

Who: Vigdis Finnbogadottir Why she inspires us: Finnbogadottir was the world’s first democratically directly elected female president, and the longest serving female head of state. What she taught us: She paved the way for female leaders all over the world - we are also totally in love with her personal slogan of 'Never let the women down'.

Who: Wendy Henry Why she inspires us: Journalist and dog lover, she is often described as the first female editor on Fleet Street due to her tenure at the News of the World. What she taught us: No industry is inaccessible for women.

Who: Alison Bechdel Why she inspires us: By creating the Bechdel test, she exposed the inequality on screen between men and women. What she taught us: Inequality between the sexes should not be tolerated in any medium.

Who: Jane Fonda Why she inspires us: She was an anti-Vietnam war activist and later in life inspired a generation of women to get active with her fitness videos. What she taught us: Reinvention is possible at any age: ‘It's never too late - never too late to start over, never too late to be happy.’

Who: Martina Navratilova Why she inspires us: Navratilova has been one of the unrivalled queens of the court for almost 40 years and is an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights. What she taught us: How to maintain a successful sporting career over an incredible number of years.


100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: The Spice Girls, Princess Diana, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Lil' Kim

Who: Gwen Stefani Why she inspires us: As front woman of No Doubt, her lyrical honesty and washboard abs inspired a generation of Riot Grrrls. What she taught us: Women can rock just as hard as men and their lyrics can move us to tears.

Who: Benazir Bhutto Why she inspires us: Bhutto served as Prime Minister of Pakistan and was the first woman to head a democratic government in a Muslim majority nation. What she taught us: The importance of democracy; Bhutto said that it is 'necessary for peace and to undermine the forces of terrorism.’

Who: Princess Diana Why she inspires us: Her life was tragically cut short, but her inspiring work with AIDs sufferers and anti-landmine campaigns means that Diana truly was ‘The People’s Princess.’ What she taught us: Everyone in society deserves to have a voice.

Who: Sinead O’Connor Why she inspires us: Her version of ‘Nothing Compares 2U’, her shaved head and activism against child abuse in the Catholic church made her a true rebel heart. What she taught us: Dare to be yourself.

Who: Lil’ Kim Why she inspires us: Rapper, singer and LGBT advocate, Lil’ Kim was one of the first women to insist that women belonged in the 90s rap scene, whilst making no apologies for her sexuality. What she taught us: Don’t apologise for yourself: with lyrics like ‘If I was you I’d hate me too/Louis Vuitton shoes and a whole lot of booze’, Lil’ Kim certainly doesn’t.

Who: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Why she inspires us: Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and co-founder of the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, Bader Ginsburg is our legal idol (sorry Elle Woods). What she taught us: Through her various verdicts, supporting women’s rights, LGBT causes and racial equality, she proved that she deserves the affectionate moniker of the Notorious R.B.G.

Who: Marilyn Vos Savant Why she inspires us: Using her record-breaking IQ, Vos Savant’s handling of an maths problem and its aftermath made her a feminist (and intellectual) icon. What she taught us: To stick to our guns (read more about the Monty Hall maths problem debacle here - but be warned, it will make your brain hurt and your blood boil.)

Who: The Spice Girls Why they inspire us: Five British girls with ridiculous nicknames managed to revolutionise the global pop music scene, and took no prisoners whilst they were at it. What they taught us: Quite simply, Girl Power (not forgetting, zig-ah-zig-ahhh).

Who: Eve Ensler Why she inspires us: American playwright, performer, feminist and activist, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues. What she taught us: To consider the experiences of all women and to not be afraid to modify your opinion - the play had previously been criticised as transphobic so Ensler wrote a new monologue from the view of a trans-woman to address this.

Who: Lisa Simpson Why she inspires us: Okay, she’s fictional but she’s a feminist, an island of reason in an otherwise off-the-wall family and part of the longest-running animated series of all time: we can’t help but love Lisa Lionheart. What she taught us: 'Trust in yourself, and you can achieve anything.’


100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: Pink, Beyoncé, Doreen Lawrence and J.K. Rowling

Who: Pink Why she inspires us: A three-time Grammy Award winner, Pink’s no bullshit attitude was anathema to the hypersexualisation of noughties popstars. What she taught us: You don't have to change who you are to be successful (expressed heartbreakingly in the lyrics to Don't Let Me Get Me).

Who: Beyoncé Why she inspires us: 22-time Grammy award winning artist, Beyoncé Knowles is single-handedly responsible for some of the best pop songs of the last 20 years. What she taught us: Dedication is everything: a young Beyoncé used to allegedly jog round her neighbourhood, singing at the top of her voice, to increase her stamina for on-stage performances.

Who: Emma Watson Why she inspires us: Best known as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, Watson has become an outspoken voice in the fight for global women’s rights and how men should be more involved in feminism. What she taught us: ‘Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.’

Who: J.K. Rowling Why she inspires us: Rowling brought the magic of reading to a new generation and now has the best-selling series of books of all time. What she taught us: What matters is the quality of an idea: Rowling finished her first manuscript on a manual typewriter.

Who: Susan Solomon Why she inspires us: An atmospheric chemist, along with her team, Solomon was the first to attribute the hole in the ozone layer to CFCs, such as those used in aerosols and refrigerants. What she taught us: One woman can change the future of the entire planet.

Who: Doreen Lawrence Why she inspires us: Mother of Stephen Lawrence, the London teenager murdered in a 1993 racist attack, she has since become a prominent campaigner against racial violence, a member of the House of Lords and is Sadiq Khan’s most inspirational female Londoner. What she taught us: Compassion can flourish anywhere, even when it is forced from a situation of adversity and hate.

Who: Helena Morrissey Why she inspires us: Morrissey is a high-flying female executive and former CEO, who also established the 30% Club, to campaign for greater female representation on company boards. What she taught us: With the right support (in Morrissey's case this role is taken by her stay-at-home husband), it is possible to have it all.

Who: Kacey Ainsworth Why she inspires us: Her sensitive portrayal of Little Mo in an Eastenders' domestic violence story line brought the issue to the forefront of public consciousness. What she taught us: Domestic violence can affect anyone at any time and must be taken seriously.

Who: Britney Spears: Why she inspires us: She was the youngest recording artist to ever receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at the tender age of 21) and, ever since a certain high school themed video, Britney’s influence on the music scene has been undeniable. What she taught us: It's okay to talk about your demons: ‘Success isn’t about conquering something; it’s being happy with who you are.’

Who: Finn Mackay Why she inspires us: Founder of the London Feminist network, the group responsible for restarting the ‘Reclaim the Night’ marches, Mackay is a dedicated radical feminist. What she taught us: ‘If we are to correct our unbalanced world, then we need to get rid of the patriarchy as a system of social governance.'

2010s/ 2020s

100 Most Inspirational Women

Clockwise from top left: Meghan Markle, Malala Yousafzai, Kim Kardashian and Serena Williams

Who: Malala Yousafzai Why she inspires us: Yousafzai survived a Taliban assassination attempt as retaliation for her activism for girls' education and went on to be the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. What she taught us: With Malala, it’s hard to know where to start: at the age of 20, she is already changing the world through her words and her work.

Who: The Kardashians Why they inspire us: Love them or hate them, the Kardashians have created a brand out of their family name and shown us the sheer variety of first names that can be spelt with a 'K'. What they taught us: Haters are going to hate: this doesn’t mean you can’t be a success - their collective net worth is £350 million FYI.

Who: Hillary Clinton: Why she inspires us: From her championing of the Violence Against Women Act to negotiating ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in 2012, we wish more than anything that we could call her Madame President. What she taught us: Even in the jaws of the most galling defeat, we must learn from our mistakes and carry on fighting for what we think is right.

Who: Meghan Markle Why she inspires us: From civil rights activist, to prime-time actress to future British princess, there is no role Markle cannot play. What she taught us: Her style, her career and her political views mean that Markle is bringing the Royal Family into the 21st century (frankly, whether they like it or not).

Who: Michelle Obama Why she inspires us: Graduate of Princeton and Harvard, intellectual property lawyer and devoted mother, we’re not sure that there’s anything Michelle Obama cannot do. What she taught us: Obama is an inspiration to young girls everywhere, who she encourages to ‘spread your wings and soar’.

Who: Serena Williams Why she inspires us: Often regarded as the greatest female tennis player of all time, Serena Williams is a 23-time grand slam winner and won the 2017 Australian Open whilst two months pregnant (!!!) What she taught us: Body positivity: in her own words, ‘I’m really exciting. I smile a lot, I win a lot and I’m really sexy.’

Who: Sheryl Sandberg Why she inspires us: Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and the founder of the Lean In Foundation, a non-profit organisation offering women ‘the ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals.’ What she taught us: To be fearless: as she puts it, ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’

Who: Jacinda Ardern Why she inspires us: The NZ Prime Minister supports Maori rights, feminism and same-sex marriage. When she was elected leader of the New Zealand Labour party, the party was inundated with donations: we’re not the only ones who love her. What she taught us: A high-flying career and a family are not mutually exclusive (Ardern's first child is due in June!)

Who: 'The Silence Breakers' Why they inspire us: These women started a 'revolution of refusal' and said #TimesUp to sexism and harassment in the workplace. What they taught us: Whatever your role, whatever your industry, you have a voice and deserve to be listened to.

Who: Greta Thunberg Why they inspire us: She created the global movement, School Strike for Climate Change, and went on to be named Time's 2019 Person of the Year. What they taught us: As a schoolchild, Greta managed something environmentalists have been trying to achieve for years - she got the whole world's attention. No matter your age or your size, you can make a difference.

Happy Women's History Month!

Jenny Proudfoot
Features Editor

Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.

With contributions from