History is full of women who bravely fought to make a difference in the world.
As activists, journalists, or fighters, women have stepped up to combat social injustice and defend their freedoms. Others worked their way into “boys clubs,” helping to pave the way for others to follow.
But while women have always been working toward making the world a better place, their voices were not always heard or acknowledged. And some of these women still do not get the recognition that they deserve in classroom history textbooks, even though their contributions are undeniable. All of them are inspirations.
Here are 21 quotes from just a few notable female leaders about how to make a better world:
1. “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” — Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Wells-Barnett was an important African-American journalist and activist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She also marched in Washington, D.C., in 1913 for universal suffrage.
2. “I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.” — Nancy Wake
Code-named "The White Mouse," Wake was one of the most decorated Allied servicewomen of World War II. She joined the resistance when the war broke out, and is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers and downed airmen.
3. “Don’t sit and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” — Sarah Breedlove
Breedlove, who later became known as Madam C.J. Walker, was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire, making her fortune by creating a line of specialized hair products for African-American hair.
4. "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." — Mother Teresa
The founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to helping the poor, Mother Teresa is one of the most important humanitarians of the 20th century. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was canonized as a saint in 2016.
5. “When you find a burden in belief or apparel, cast it off.” — Amelia Bloomer
A 19th-century women’s rights activist, Bloomer helped transform the way American women dressed, advocating for corsets and petticoats to be abandoned and shorter skirts with pants underneath. She also established one of the first newspapers written, edited and published by women: The Lily.
6. “If it is true that men are better than women because they are stronger, why aren’t our sumo wrestlers in the government?” — Kishida Toshiko
A writer and women’s rights activist, Toshiko is also known as Japan’s first female orator. She is famous for her “Daughters in Boxes” speech that criticized a family system that confined women at home.
7. “You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.” — Aung San Suu Kyi
Activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was a vocal critic of Myanmar’s dictator U Ne Win, and she initiated a nonviolent movement toward achieving democracy and human rights in her country. More recently, she led the National League for Democracy to a majority win in the country’s first openly contested election in 25 years.
8. “Energy rightly applied can accomplish anything.” — Nellie Bly
Elizabeth Jane Cochran, who wrote under the pen name Nellie Bly, was a brave American journalist known for her investigative and undercover reporting, including her 1887 expose on the treatment of asylum patients at Blackwell’s Island.
9. “To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.” — Carrie Chapman Catt
She was an activist instrumental in the suffrage movement to get women the right to vote. Chapman Catt also served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and founded the League of Women Voters.
10. “Truth is powerful and it prevails.” — Sojourner Truth
11. “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.” — Marie Curie
We all know that Curie is a famous physicist who conducted important research on radioactivity that led to the discovery of polonium and radium. But did you know that she was twice the winner of a Nobel Prize? She also advanced women's role in the scientific community.
12. “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” — Maya Angelou
Angelou was an acclaimed American poet, actress, writer, and activist. She is perhaps best known for her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
13. "We will not have failure — only success and new learning." — Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria ascended to the throne just weeks after her 18th birthday and went on to have the second-longest reign of any queen in British history. Historians often associate her reign with imperialism but also with cultural expansion and advances in industry, science, and technology.
14. “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” — Malala Yousafzai
Yousafzai, an advocate for girl’s education, made headlines after she survived being shot in 2012 by the Taliban. The incident didn’t stop her from continuing to speak out for education. In 2014, she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
15. “You must come to terms with the reality that nothing outside ourselves, be it people or things, is actually responsible for our happiness.” — Mary Edwards Walker
Walker was a doctor at a time when female physicians were rare, was arrested several times for dressing in men’s clothing, and became a vocal women’s rights activist after the Civil War.
During the Civil War, she worked as an assistant surgeon and was captured by the Confederates. She became the first and only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor — though Congress tried to take it back in 1917. She refused to return the medal, proudly wearing it until her death, and President Jimmy Carter reinstated her honor in 1977.
16. “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” — Rosa Parks
One of the most famous civil rights activists is Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in 1955. She was a key player in initiating the civil rights movement in the United States.
17. "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."— Eleanor Roosevelt
First lady Roosevelt was also a writer and humanitarian. She is credited with changing the role of the first lady through her active participation in American politics.
18. "Believe in yourself, learn, and never stop wanting to build a better world." — Mary McLeod Bethune
19. “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
20. “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.” — Helen Keller
Keller, who lost her sight and hearing when she was 19 months old, was an educator, a leading humanitarian, and one of the co-founders of the ACLU.
21. “If you don’t have an idea that materializes and changes a person’s life, then what have you got? You have talk, research, telephone calls, meetings, but you don’t have a change in the community.” —Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Whether they were marching for civil rights, resisting political oppression, or advancing women’s position in the workplace, these women — and many others — fought the good fight.
They remind us that change is possible. Their words continue to resonate and inspire today.