Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

A History Major’s Favorite Female Historical Figures

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

One of my favorite aspects of Women’s History Month, as well as any cultural historical recognition, is seeing and learning about significant historical figures that are usually underrepresented or missed in typical media or the occasional classroom. As a history major, I have my fair share of female historical figures that sit close to my heart, and I love to speak and share these figures with anyone interested in listening to my rambles. You may be familiar with a few of the figures I list, but you might not know much about any of them.

While I love to learn new things and pieces of history that are often glanced over, I will certainly be taking the time to familiarize myself with even more important historical figures this month. However, these five women hold a special place in my heart due to their accomplishments and vigor as females in an abundantly patriarchal world:

Hatshepsut (est. 1478-1458 BCE)

When I first learned of Hatshepsut in my high school World History class, I was enthralled. Hatshepsut is known to be the first female pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. She married her half-brother, Thutmose II, who inherited his father’s throne around 1479 BCE with Hatshepsut as his wife. When Thutmose II passed, the throne went to his son (but not Hatshepsut’s child), Thutmose III. Thutmose III was only an infant when the throne became his, so Hatshepsut agreed to act as regent.

Although there isn’t much information about how she assumed more power and eventually the regalia and position of the king— or as we know it, pharaoh— alongside Thutmose III, Hatshepsut’s reign was known to be both peaceful and successful. After her death and Thutmose III’s total assumption of the throne, he largely removed all evidence to show that Hatshepsut ruled or that a female king existed in Ancient Egypt. It wasn’t until 1822 that scholars and historians first found prominent information about one of the first female pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.

Wu Zetian (624-705 CE)

Also known as Wuhou or Wu Zhao, Wu Zetian was the first and only female emperor of China. She began as a concubine of emperor Taizong (ruled 626-649), and after his death, it is understood she already had relations with his heir, Gaozong. Wu Zetian became a favorite of Gaozong and “eliminated her female rivals within the palace” until eventually becoming empress and bearing Gaozong’s children.

Wu Zetian exercised her power to exile or execute those who opposed her rise to becoming empress, many of which were statesmen or other people of power (occasionally even family members) in China. Gaozong, who became ill and was “weak in character,” completely relied upon Wu Zetian to run the operations of China during the last 23 years of his rule.

After Gaozong’s death, his eldest son Li Xian took the throne. However, he was seen to be as weak of a leader as his father, leaving Wu Zetian to exile her own son within a month of his becoming emperor. Her second son, Li Dan, then became emperor. Six years later, however, she usurped the throne and took the position for herself in 690 CE. Wu Zetian is known to have been a capable but controversial ruler, recognized as one of the cruelest rulers in all of China’s history.

Catherine the Great (1729-1796 CE)

Catherine II of Russia, most commonly known as Catherine the Great, followed a similar story as Hatshepsut and Wu Zeitan, only over a thousand years later. Catherine II married Peter III, grandson of Peter the Great, in 1745. Peter III, therefore, was in the line of succession to the Russian throne. However, he was known to be obstinate and unfit to lead, vastly different from the charming Catherine II.

Peter III became emperor following the death of the ruler and daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth, and was interested in disassociating himself from Catherine II. Catherine II, however, had the love and support of the Russian people and military. In June 1762, she led a coup in St. Petersburg and declared herself empress. A few months later, she became officially recognized as ruler and thus began her 34-year rule of Russia.

Catherine the Great left a grand legacy in Russia and the world, continuing to be admired by many. She strengthened her empire to become enough to threaten other world powers in her time. Due to both her elegance and determination, Catherine the Great was an easy addition to my list.

Abigail Adams (1744-1818 CE)

Abigail Adams is known to be one of the first American feminists. I first learned about Adams in my high school United States History class and became near obsessed with her following the Revolutionary unit. In my mind, she became another female historical figure of utmost importance and encapsulated the spirit of feminism in the sources we have access to today.

Abigail Adams was the wife of the second U.S. President, John Adams, as well as one of his closest confidants and friends. She often gave her husband advice on his political affairs leading up to and after the Revolutionary War. Her most known quote, in a letter to her husband during his meetings with the Continental Congress in 1776, is “I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.” Adams was not afraid to push her feminist ideals into the mind of her husband, hoping he’d advocate for women’s rights in the meetings leading up to the making of the United States Declaration of Independence and the making of the Constitution.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931 CE)

While Ida B. Wells is similar to the other women on my list by embodying brilliance in terms of being an influential woman, the reasons for her influence came out of a very different situation. Wells was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862 and was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 during the Civil War. Prior to her involvement in the civil rights efforts of the U.S., she attended both Rust University and Fisk University to further her education.

Wells, aware of the lynchings of black Americans following the Civil War, decided to investigate these incidents and use media (in the form of newspaper publishing) to spread awareness of the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. South. Wells utilized her extensive writing skill to further her anti-lynching crusade. She was a heavily involved activist and journalist, eventually working beside other well-known civil rights activists of her time.

Alongside W.E.B. Du Bois and others, Wells was one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Though she was passionate about racial justice in the United States, Wells also advocated for women’s rights. Ida B. Wells left a large mark on social reform in the United States in her time and continues to be an important figure to study. Although many are familiar with her name, I feel that Wells’ legacy should be better widely celebrated in classrooms in the United States.

These five women are a few of my favorite historical figures of all time. I find myself continuously remembering and examining the legacies these women left behind. It is difficult to condense their immense histories into a small article, so I encourage you to research them in your time. In addition to expanding your knowledge on the figures I’ve mentioned, however, I further encourage you to research any other prominent or less-known female historical figures. While Women’s History Month is the perfect opportunity to educate yourself on these women, the legacies of these women run beyond a single month in the year.

Want to see more HCFSU? Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and Pinterest!

Grace is a junior at FSU from Martinsburg, West Virginia! She is studying one of her largest passions, History, and plans to graduate in the Fall/Winter of 2025. Grace serves as a Content Editor for Her Campus at FSU (HCFSU). Grace is involved in many organizations on campus, such as HCFSU, FSU Homecoming, and FSU's Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter. She is a go-to for anything History-related and is always looking for new adventures!