Dorothea Dix

(b. April 4, 1802, Hampden, District of Maine, Mass. [now in Maine], U.S.-d. July 17, 1887, Trenton, N.J.) The American educator, social reformer, and humanitarian Dorothea Dix led the fight for the welfare of the mentally ill, and her efforts led to widespread reforms in the United States and abroad….

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Sappho

(b. c. 610 BCE, Lesbos [Greece]-d. c. 570 BCE) The Greek lyric poet Sappho (or Psappho, as her name is given in the Aeolic dialect spoken by the poet) has been greatly admired in all ages for the beauty of her writing style. She ranks with Archilochus and Alcaeus, among…

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Sirimavo R. D. Bandaranaike

(b. April 17, 1916, Ratnapura, Ceylon [now Sri Lanka]-d. Oct. 10, 2000, Colombo, Sri Lanka) Upon her party’s victory in the 1960 Ceylon general election, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman prime minister. She left office in 1965 but returned to serve two more terms (1970–77, 1994–2000)…

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Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

(b. Oct. 29, 1938, Monrovia, Liberia) The Liberian politician and economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was president of Liberia from 2006. She was the first woman to be elected head of state of an African country. Of mixed Gola and German heritage, Ellen Johnson was the daughter of the first indigenous Liberian…

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Jane Austen

(b. Dec. 16, 1775, Steventon, Hampshire, Eng.d. July 18, 1817, Winchester, Hampshire) The English writer Jane Austen was the first writer to give the novel its distinctly modern character through her treatment of ordinary people in everyday life. Austen created the comedy of manners of middle-class life in the England…

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Amelia Earhart

(b. July 24, 1897, Atchison, Kan., U.S.-disappeared July 2, 1937, near Howland Island, central Pacific Ocean) One of the world’s most celebrated aviators, Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly alone over the Atlantic Ocean. Amelia Mary Earhart moved often with her family and completed high school in Chicago…

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Wangari Maathai

(b. April 1, 1940, Nyeri, Kenya) In 2004 the Kenyan politician and environmental activist Wangari Muta Maathai was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize for Peace, becoming the first black African woman to win the award. Her work often has been considered both unwelcome and subversive in her own country, where…

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Margaret Sanger

(b. Sept. 14, 1879, Corning, N.Y., U.S.-d. Sept. 6, 1966, Tucson, Ariz.) Margaret Sanger founded the birth-control movement in the United States and was an international leader in the field. In fact, she is credited with originating the term “birth control.” The sixth of 11 children, Margaret Louisa Higgins attended…

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Isadora Duncan

(b. May 26, 1877 or May 27, 1878, San Francisco, Calif., U.S.-d. Sept. 14, 1927, Nice, France) The American dancer Isadora Duncan (born Angela Duncan) helped free ballet from its conservative restrictions through her teaching and performances and presaged the development of modern expressive dance. She was among the first…

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Hatshepsut

(fl. 15th century BCE) The most famous female king of Egypt was Hatshepsut (Hatchepsut), who reigned in her own right c. 1473–58 BCE. She attained unprecedented power for a woman, adopting the full titles and regalia of a pharaoh. Hatshepsut was the elder daughter of the 18th-dynasty king Thutmose I…

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