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7 of the most inspiring British women in history

From literary heroines to doyennes of space…

Carla Challis

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?

Millicent Fawcett

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.

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Virginia Woolf

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).

Marie Stopes

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

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'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.

Helen Sharman

We can't have this list without an astronaut; in 1991, Helen Sharman became the first 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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Jane Austen

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.

Read more inspiring stories from incredible, successful women on HELLO!'s new Empowerment Channel.

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