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You Go, Girl! 10 Inspirational Women You Should Know

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

Maya Angelou, one of today’s most influential literary voices known for dispersing precious pearls of wisdom, is coming to Mizzou on Thursday, April 14. In case you collegiettes™ didn’t know, March was Women’s History Month, a time to look back at the achievements of the empowering women who helped get us to where we are today. But we at Her Campus Mizzou think we should celebrate great women of the past and present all the time! Whether world leaders, athletes or entertainers, the fearless and fabulous women below were (and are) all pioneers who overcame glass ceilings to share their visions for a better world. Does our top 10 list leave off an amazing lady who inspires you? Let us know who she is and why you look up to her!

1. Oprah Winfrey, talk show host

As one of the most successful women to ever grace the entertainment industry, Oprah Winfrey broke gender and race barriers to become a self-made billionaire. For the past 24 years, her extremely popular television show has been a platform to discuss some of the most important social issues of our time. But Oprah doesn’t stop there. She’s donated nearly $50 million dollars to various charities and has even opened a school for girls in South Africa. Her efforts surely put her in the running as one of the greatest humanitarians of the century.

“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.”

2. Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady

Roosevelt managed to do it all. She cared for family, campaigned endlessly for social justice and won the hearts of America with her candor and determination. In her 12 years as First Lady, she used her role to fight for women’s and civil rights. She continued her work after she left the White House and served as the first chairman on the UN Human Rights Commission.

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

3. Marie Curie, scientist

As the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for science, Curie showed the world that science isn’t just for the guys. She struggled through years of poverty to study radioactivity. Endless research led to her discovery of two new elements, radium and polonium. Without her breakthrough work, the world would not have X-ray machines, nuclear power or cancer treatments.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

4. Billie Jean King, tennis player

Although she’s one of the greatest tennis players to ever have ever lived, King is known for much more than that. She’s a champion for women’s equality in sports and established the Women’s Tennis Association, womenSports magazine and the Women’s Sports Foundation. In 1973, she wanted to prove that testosterone was not necessary for excellent athletic performance by challenging star tennis player Bobby Riggs to a “Battle of the Sexes” match. She won.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

5. Katharine Hepburn, actress

This iconic actress’s unconventional lifestyle and witty personality set her apart from other actresses of her time. She might not have had the typical Hollywood leading lady look, but that didn’t stop her from giving some of the most memorable performances in history (or winning four Best Actress Oscar awards). She chose to be in films with smart, empowering female leads. Through both her roles on and off the screen, she showed Hollywood that for women, beauty and intelligence are not mutually exclusive.

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.”

6. Dorothy Day, social activist

An advocate for the poor, Day dedicated much of her life to addressing the injustices she saw around her. She spearheaded the Catholic Worker Movement, a mission to end poverty and violence in America. Day took a vow of poverty and lived in worker houses with the people she helped. Perhaps most importantly, she was an imperfect leader. She often publicly disagreed with the Catholic Church, was arrested several times and had a child out of wedlock. Despite this, she was able to lead one of the greatest humanitarian efforts of the century.

“And by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute, we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.”

7. Diane Sawyer, TV journalist

As the first female correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes, Sawyer helped pave the way for other female journalists. Her investigative reporting tackled racial discrimination, the U.S. foster care system and life in America’s poorest city. She even put herself behind bars to get the story on a women’s maximum-security prison. She was also the first American journalist to report from North Korea and conducted Saddam Hussein’s first Western television interview in over a decade. She anchors ABC’s evening newscast, World News.

“One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.”

8. Benazir Bhutto, politician

This bold, outspoken and often controversial politician tirelessly worked to be a voice for women all over the world. Her election as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988 made her the first woman ever elected to lead a Muslim country. While in office, Bhutto made ending poverty, improving healthcare and education priorities for her country. In 2007, she was assassinated while at a campaign rally, but she left behind a legacy of women’s empowerment in Pakistani politics.

“Benazir Bhutto doesn’t cease to exist the moment she gets married. I am not giving myself away. I belong to myself, and I always shall.”

9. Maya Angelou, writer

She overcame race and class obstacles to become one of history’s most celebrated writers. Her moving coming-of-age story, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is unique in that it’s one of the first deeply personal African-American autobiographies. Although her poetry and autobiographical writings deal with difficult subjects, they have been read by millions across the world.

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a b*tch. You’ve got to go out and kick a**.”

10. Ellen Degeneres, entertainer

While known by most for her hit talk show, DeGeneres’ early acting career brought a breakthrough for gay rights. On the sitcom Ellen, her character became the first woman character in television history to come out of the closet. Ever since, Ellen has been a role model for lesbian women in America by overcoming homophobic barriers to become one of the most popular ladies in the media.

“For me, it’s that I contributed, … That I’m on this planet doing some good and making people happy. That’s to me the most important thing, that my hour of television is positive and upbeat and an antidote for all the negative stuff going on in life.”

Kelsey Mirando is a senior at the University of Missouri, class of 2011, studying Magazine Journalism, English and Sociology. Born and raised in Tulsa, Okla., Kelsey enjoys travel, volunteerism and any Leonardo DiCaprio movie. She is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta women's fraternity and has served as President of the Society of Professional Journalists, MU chapter. She has reported among the Tiger fans of Columbia, Mo., the hustle and bustle of Beijing and the bright lights of New York City. Kelsey recently completed the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) summer internship program and is now soaking up every moment of her senior year at Mizzou.