Marie Skłodowska Curie deserves two places on this list as she actually manages to change the world on two separate occasions. Not only was she the founder of radioactivity (so of life itself, basically), but her discoveries led to effective cures for cancer. Curie was studying physics in Paris when she met Pierre, the man who would become both her husband and collaborator. They identified two new elements together: polonium and radium. After Pierre had passed away, she raised a large sum of money in both Europe and the U.S. to fund laboratories and to develop treatments for cancer.
As well as having enormously high intelligence, Curie was a woman of action. During WW1, she assisted in equipping ambulances with x-ray equipment. She would also regularly drive them to the front line herself. Despite her constant exposure to the radioactive materials she was working with, she maintained her desire to excel in the career she loved. Today, the Marie Curie organisation continues to help terminally ill patients the world over.
In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union in order to campaign for women to be given the right to vote in Edwardian Britain. A powerful orator and charismatic leader, Pankhurst won the support of thousands of women who insisted on their democratic right in a movement the likes of which has never been seen since in Britain. She was imprisoned no less than 13 times, with her name and movement making themselves known all over the world.
In 1955, an African American woman living in Montgomery, Alabama, made a stand (or rather refused to stand). In some parts of the U.S., if the white section of a bus was full, a black person was legally obliged to stand up so that a white person could take their seat. Numerous other African Americans supported her, which started a civil rights movement. Equal rights were eventually won the 1960s. Four years since Rosa Parks’ passing, Barack Obama became American’s first African-American president.
When DNA’s double-helix structure was discovered, a claim was made by scientists that the secret of life had been unravelled. Crystallographer Rosalind Franklin provided the all-important piece of evidence. This was shown in the famous photograph 51, which reveals an x-ray with a dark cross of dots. This was the signature image of a hidden molecular spiral. It was followed by some significant innovations, such as genetic engineering and test-tube babies, each dependent on an understanding of the chemical foundations of heredity.
During the Crimean Britain vs Russian conflict (1853-56), Florence Nightingale led the very first team of military nurses from Britain to Turkey. The war saw more soldiers die from disease than wounds, and Nightingale not only tended to the sick, but also told the army’s medical services how they could reduce the number of avoidable deaths. She continued her work even after the war had ended and was a key figure in establishing a permanent military nursing serve.