10 of the most inspiring British women in history

From literary heroines to doyennes of space…

Let's cut to the chase: women are awesome. From political trailblazers to campaigners, artists and astronauts, British women have long been doing some amazing and awe-inspiring things that have changed the way we live our lives for the better and made their mark on the world. Of course, there's a whole lot more inspirational women than those we've highlighted below, but here's seven inspirational British women from history who all made big changes to Britain and beyond. Who's your most inspirational British woman?

Jane Austen

Jane Austen's novels Pride and Prejudice and Emma are among some of her most famous works

Jane Austen's literary work helped to shape the novels we know today – her books from Pride & Prejudice to Emma are constant sources of inspiration for not just fiction, but films and TV shows too thanks to her sharp wit and tales of love and strong female characters.

Margaret Busby

Margaret Busby had a huge impact on the British publishing industry

Margaret Busby became Britain's youngest and first ever black female book publisher in 1967 when she founded the Allison & Busby publishing company. Boasting an impressive list of achievements, Margaret would spend over three decades campaigning for greater diversity in publishing, eventually acting as a founding member of the Greater Access to Publishing organisation.

Millicent Fawcett

Millicent Fawcett was instrumental in securing the women's vote

Born in 1847 in Suffolk, Millicent Fawcett was a union leader who campaigned for women's right to vote and is considered an instrumental figure in getting the women's vote. She was a suffragist not a suffragette, sharing the same aims as Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragette movement but favoured non-violent protests, and formed the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in 1897, playing a key role in founding Newnham College, the second Cambridge university college to admit women. In 2018, Parliament Square unveiled a bronze statue or Millicent – the first ever female statue there.

MORE: 11 empowering feminist films to watch this International Women's Day

Mary Seacole 

Mary Seacole's work as a nurse during the Crimean War is inspirational

Born in Jamaica, Mary Seacole moved to England in 1854, determined to travel to the Crimea and assist the troops as an army nurse. Later setting up the British Hotel on the Crimean peninsula, Mary was able to offer a mess table and comfortable quarters to officers in need. While her work as a nurse was initially overshadowed by that of Florence Nightingale, in 1991 Mary was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit, and she was also voted the greatest black Briton in 2004. 

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was considered one of England's most distinguished writers

Part of the collective known as the legendary Bloomsbury group, Virginia was a celebrated novelist, critic and essayist who was considered one of England's most distinguished writers. Her novels tested the boundaries of what Victorian and Edwardian fiction had been before, with some of her most beloved work including Mrs Dalloway (1925) and To The Lighthouse (1927).

Adelaide Hall

Adelaide Hall enjoyed great success as a jazz singer

Originally born in Brooklyn, New York, Adelaide Hall would eventually move to London where she would embark on a successful career as a jazz singer. Earning herself the title of Britain’s highest paid female entertainer in 1941, Adelaide was entered into the 2003 Guinness Book of Records and referred to as "the world's most enduring recording artist" - she had released new music over eight consecutive decades.

Marie Stopes

Marie Stopes opened the first ever family planning clinic in Britain

Born in 1880 in Edinburgh, Marie Stopes' legacy as a pioneer of family planning lives on today with Marie Stopes clinic throughout the country. In 1912, her controversial book, Married Love, was criticised by the church and the press for covering a the then taboo subject of sex, but prompted thousands of women to write to her for advice; in 1921 she opened a family planning clinic in north London - the first in the country.

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I is still considered to be one of the most famous monarchs in recent history

Although never meant to be Queen, Queen Elizabeth I is still considered one of the most famous monarchs in recent history. The daughter of Queen Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, she went on to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588, with her legendary speech to her troops going down in history.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale pioneered nursing during the Crimean War

Florence Nightingale's pioneering work nursing British troops during the Crimean War was ground breaking – she took 38 nurses to Turkey's military hospital, the first time a woman had been allowed to do so. She dedicated her life to improving health care and sanitation, and became the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society in 1858.

READ: I photoshopped my body to show all the different 'ideal' figures throughout history

Helen Sharman

Helen Sharman became the first female British Astronaut 

We can't have this list without an astronaut; in 1991, Helen Sharman became the first female British Astronaut when she launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft – plus, she was the first woman to visit the Mir space station too. Helen was chosen for the mission after responding to a radio ad, and beat off competition from almost 13,000 other applicants. Helen is a full-time scientist, pioneer and role model.

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