Inspiring Women of Europe

March 1, 2019


The inspiring actions of women across Europe have been extensive throughout history, making tangible, definitive impacts on the world around them. Key female figures haven’t necessarily been given credit for their contributions, whether these are scientific or literary, as well as their constant battle to improve the state of the world for those around them.

International Women’s Day is a celebration of womanhood, encompassing the many influential women who have made their mark on history and to inspire future generations of strong, powerful women. Following on from last year, we’ve highlighted the efforts of five more inspiring women from across history.


Hildegard of Bingen – (1098 – 1179)

Also known as Saint Hildegard and Sibyl of the Rhine, Hildegard was a Benedictine abbess from Germany who was venerated for her countless contributions across literary and scientific fields, commanding respect from both the public and her peers. The numerous work she devoted herself to over her lifetime was considered revolutionary within that century, with the strength of her work transcending the strict limitations imposed on women within the various fields she participated in.

Hildegard is regarded as the founder of contemporary German scientific natural history, author of what is arguably the oldest surviving iteration of a morality play and composer of a variety of moving musical pieces which have only recently been rediscovered. With more of her work coming to light as interest in her life grows, her achievements across a wide number of academic areas cement her as a most remarkable and talented woman.


Emmeline Pankhurst – (1858 – 1928)

Pankhurst was a central figure within the British women’s suffrage movement, leading several different activist groups in demonstrations and protests in the name of winning the right for women to vote. Born in the northern industrial city of Manchester, Emmeline founded the Women’s Franchise League in 1889 which fought for married women to vote in local elections, and later established the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

The latter of these two organisations took more drastic action during some of their protests, utilising hunger strikes and more militant demonstrations which caught the attention of the public. The members of the WSPU were the first to be referred to as ‘suffragettes’, rather than the common term ‘suffragists’, to distinguish their actions and sparked progress within the movement. After years of campaigning, Pankhurst saw the passing of the Representation of the People Act that gave women over 30 voting rights, but sadly died weeks before women were granted equal voting rights with men.


Anna Freud – (1895 – 1982)

Born in Vienna, Freud was a celebrated psychoanalyst who pioneered various studies and research which forged the foundations for the discipline of modern-day child psychology. As the youngest daughter of noted psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, her interest in psychology stemmed from her understanding of her father’s work but with a desire to focus on the development of the ego and child development.

The Freud family emigrated to London in 1938 prior to the Second World War, where Anna set up the Hampstead War Nurseries to look after children who had lost their homes and families as well as helping them deal with the emotional stress. Today, the nurseries live on as the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families to commemorate Freud’s contributions to child psychology and the wartime effort.


Simone de Beauvoir – (1908 – 1986)

De Beauvior was a French social theorist and philosopher whose political and feminist activism, in combination with her existentialist views, led her to write “The Second Sex”. This book contained a comprehensive analysis of women’s oppression within society, which went on to significantly influence contemporary feminist theory, notably second-wave feminist.

The title stemmed from the idea that women were defined by their relation to men, and tackled the concept of the patriarchy which dominated modern society due to men positioning themselves as the norm. The book’s themes and concepts rapidly gained momentum, which were quickly picked up by the French women’s liberation movement and integrated into their cause. The book has since been translated into 40 different languages, and went on to influence further feminist publications through the discussion it created.


Wisława Szymborska – (1923 – 2012)

With a life that spanned almost a century, witnessing some of the world’s most defining moments of modern history, Maria Wisława Anna Syzmborska is a well-known Polish poet and essayist whose notable works have seen her awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. She spent her childhood years in Bnin (now part of Kórnik) where she penned short stories and songs, which later developed into her own personal style of language that defines her poetry.

The majority of her active years were spent in the Polish capital of Kraków, where she was referred to by her peers as ‘the Mozart of Poland’ citing Syzmborska’s blend of irony, attention to detail and female perspective that unlocks new insight into the historical context that surrounds her work. From her experiences during the Second World War to her political activism seeking freedom of speech, Symborska’s catalogue of work demonstrates a relentless strength and determination tempered by her unique literary style.


These women, along with many, many more, have displayed strength and fortitude which resonates with people across the world who still campaign for equality. You can see their impact for yourself this International Women’s Day in demonstrations and celebrations across cities and within the people influenced by their works and actions to this day, continuing to inspire future generations of women.

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