How to Make History: 8 Ways to Have an Impact

Want to be recognized – and remembered – as a woman who changed the world? Here’s a quick dose of inspo to make your mark, based on the lives of powerful women from history.


Stay brave. 

Don’t let your fears hold you back from expressing your beliefs. Eleanor Roosevelt was very shy as a child, but by the time she became the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, she had transformed herself into an outspoken activist. She worked to expand women’s rights, end racial discrimination, and help the homeless, among other issues.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


Share your story.

If there’s something you want to say, say it. Harriet Beecher Stowe, an author and abolitionist, wanted to show people how wrong slavery was, so she wrote the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After it was first published as a newspaper serial, the 1852 book became the bestselling novel of its time. In less than a year, it sold 300,000 copies, and Stowe’s message contributed to the anti-slavery movement in the United States.

Writer and poet Maya Angelou shared her life story in the 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Also a performer and civil rights activist, Angelou went on to earn a Pulitzer prize for poetry, a Tony Award, and three Grammys for her spoken word albums.

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” 
― Maya Angelou


Play hard. 

Billie Jean King is one of the best tennis players the world has ever seen – and not just compared to other women. In her career, she won 39 Grand Slam titles, but she’s best known for her 1973 match against Bobby Riggs, who claimed that, even at age 55, he could beat any of the top female players. King rose to the challenge, winning the match, and the $100,000 prize, on national TV.


“Champions keep playing until they get it right.” – Billie Jean King


Lead the way. 

Just because it hasn’t been done yet doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In 1847, Elizabeth Blackwell wanted to study medicine. She was rejected by all the major medical schools in the United States for being a woman, but went on to earn her degree at Geneva College (now Hobart College) in 1849. Blackwell later helped found medical colleges for women in New York and London, so that other women would have an easier time training to become physicians.


Start your own business. 

Sarah Breedlove, born in 1867, grew up in poverty. As a single mother, she began selling hair products to earn money. She later developed her own hair care business under her married name, Madame C.J. Walker, and trained thousands of women as sales representatives. Through her company, she encouraged other women to build their own businesses and become financially independent.


“Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” – Madam C.J. Walker


Share the spotlight.

Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire media maven who regularly uses her mega-stardom to spread positive messages and shine a light on inspiring people and causes. Her ability to influence public opinion has been called “The Oprah Effect.” When she recommends a book, it instantly becomes a best-seller, which can change the life of the book’s author. She has also used her fame to encourage spirituality, and raise awareness and funds for charitable projects.


Take action when you see an injustice.

Lucretia Mott became a women’s rights activist after learning that  male teachers at the school where she taught were paid three times as much as female teachers. (That was in the early 1800s – and the gender pay gap is still an issue today.)

It’s important to stand up for what you believe in – unless sitting down can have more of an impact. On December 1, 1955, when a bus driver asked Rosa Parks to move so that a white person could have her seat, she refused to get up. That small act of civil disobedience inspired a citywide bus boycott, and ultimately lead the Supreme Court to declare racial segregation laws unconstitutional.

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.” – Rosa Parks


Be OK with failure. 

If things go wrong, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, think of J.K. Rowling, and keep trying. Before she became a billionaire author, Rowling was a struggling single mom, receiving rejection after rejection for the first Harry Potter book. She kept sending the book to publishers, and now she – and many of her characters – are household names.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”  – J.K. Rowling

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