Pioneering Women

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Ruston was born in Belgium in 1929. Her early childhood was sheltered and privileged and the family travelled between London, Brussels, Arnhem and The Hague where she learned five languages. Her father had left the family in 1935, so when [...]

Faith Bandler

Faith's father was abducted from his home in Vanuatu as a 13 year old boy in 1883. His abduction was part of "blackbirding", the slavery trade which brought cheap labour to help establish the Australian sugar industry. He eventually escaped, as [...]

Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris in 1908. She was intellectually precocious, fuelled by her father's encouragement; he reportedly would boast, "Simone thinks like a man!" Studying mathematics and literature/languages at private colleges, she completed her degree in Philosophy at [...]

Dr Dian Fossey

Dian Fossey was born in San Francisco in 1932 and trained as an occupational therapist. In 1963 she took a brief trip to Africa, where she met the anthropologist Louis Leakey and had her first glimpse of mountain gorillas. Leakey persuaded [...]

Julia Child

Julia McWilliams was born in California in 1912. At six feet, two inches (1.88m) tall, she played tennis, golf, and basketball as a youth and at Smith College, from which she graduated in with a major in History. Julia did not [...]

Mary Blair

Artist, animator, and designer Mary Blair was born in Oklahoma 1911. Her first professional job in the animation industry was as an animator with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, afterwards joining her husband Lee Blair at the Ub Iwerks studio. In the 1930s she was [...]

Rachel Carson

Perhaps the finest nature writer of the Twentieth Century, Rachel Carson is remembered more today as the woman who challenged the notion that humans could obtain mastery over nature by chemicals, bombs and space travel than for her studies of ocean life. [...]

Coco Chanel

Gabrielle Chanel was born into poverty in the Loire Valley of France in 1883. When her mother died when she was 12, her father sent his two sons to work as farm labourers and his three daughters to a convent. It [...]

Margaret Preston

Born Margaret McPherson in Port Adelaide in 1875, Margaret moved to Melbourne in 1893 where she studied at the National Gallery of Victoria School of Arts under the painter Fredrick McCubbin and Director, Bernard Hall. In 1904 she travelled to Europe [...]

Dr Grace Hopper

Called the "queen of code" and "mother of computing", Grace Hopper was one of the world’s first computer programmers. Hopper attained a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University and was a professor of mathematics at Vassar College. When she attempted to [...]

Wilma Mankiller

In 1983, Wilma Mankiller was elected the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation – the first woman ever to serve as chief of a major Native American tribe. Her last name, Mankiller derives from the high military rank achieved by [...]

Amelia Earhart

Born in 1897, Amelia Earhart was an American aviation pioneer, feminist and author. Aged 23, she visited an airfield with her father where Frank Hawks gave her a ride that would change her life. "By the time I had got two [...]

Cecilia Payne

British born Cecilia Payne is the reason we know basically anything about variable stars (stars whose brightness as seen from earth fluctuates) as literally every other study on variable stars is based on her work. Cecilia won a scholarship to Cambridge [...]

Barbara Deming

A prolific author and activist, American Barbara Deming is known for her nonviolent political activism. She directed plays, taught dramatic literature and wrote and published fiction and non-fiction works. On a trip to India in 1959, inspired by Gandhi's writings, Barbara [...]

Gerda Lerner

Gerda Lerner was a historian and scholar who pioneered the field of women's history. Born in Vienna, Gerda became involved in the anti-Nazi resistance in 1938. After spending 6 weeks in gaol, Gerda was sponsored to emigrate to the United States. [...]

Maria Montessori

Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori enrolled in the University of Rome's school of medicine in 1893. As a woman, she faced hostility from both fellow students and professors, but despite opposition, graduated with her degree and set up a [...]

Elizabeth Kenny

A self-trained Australian Bush nurse, Elizabeth Kenny was famous in the 1930s and 1940s for developing a controversial new approach for treating victims of polio. Instead of the conventional treatment of placing affected limbs in plaster casts, Kenny applied hot compresses [...]

Helen Keller

Born in Alabama in 1880, Helen Keller contracted an illness which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis which left her both deaf and blind at 19 months old. When she was six years old, her mother was referred to Perkins [...]

Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell was a writer, cartographer, archaeologist, and explorer who helped establish modern day Jordan and Iraq after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Both the British government and the Arab leaders claimed that she was valuable help thanks to her [...]

Helen Hayes

Helen Hayes was an American actress whose career spanned 80 years. Making her stage debut in 1905 as a five-year-old singer, she is one of 15 people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award. Helen [...]

Betty Friedan

A leading figure in the women's movement in the United States, Betty Friedan's 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is often credited with sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century. The "Problem That Has No Name" was described [...]

Marie Curie

Marie Skłodowska Curie was born on 7 November in 1867 in Poland (later naturalised French). The physicist and chemist pioneered the research on radioactivity together with her husband Pierre Curie. Her achievements included a theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined), techniques [...]

Corazón Aquino

Corazón Aquino: Political Pioneer Corazón Aquino was a Filipina politician who served as the 11th President of the Philippines, the first woman to hold that office, and the first female president in Asia. Regarded as the "Icon of Philippine Democracy", Aquino [...]

Helena Rubinstein

Not that many people know about Helena Rubinstein's Australian connections. Chaya Rubinstein was born in Kraców, Poland in 1870, the eldest of eight daughters of Horace Rubinstein, an egg merchant and his wife Augusta. When her father suggested marriage to a wealthy [...]