From the skies, to the literary page, to the worldwide political stage and entertainment and sports, women have done much to steer the course of history. Fortunately, they’ve also done a heck of a job narrating along the way. Below are 30 of the greatest quotes of all time, and the women who proudly declared them.
“Independence is happiness.”
Susan B. Anthony
Born in 1820, Susan Brownell Anthony was a social reformer who played a huge role in the women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements in the United States. Anthony got an early start at fighting for social equality. Born into a Quaker family, she collected anti-slavery petitions as a teenager. Along with her friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony founded the Women’s Loyal National League in support of the abolition of slavery in 1863. She campaigned for equal rights for women and African Americans through their initiation American Equal Rights Association in 1866. She began publishing the women’s rights newspaper, The Revolution in 1868. She founded the National Woman Suffrage Association to fight for a woman’s right to vote in 1869. To culminate her activities she co-wrote the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage in 1876.
“There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.”
Jane Austen is one of the most beloved novelists of Western literature. Born in 1775 in Hampshire, England, Austen authored six major novels during her lifetime. These include Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Austen’s work was very popular. She is often acclaimed by readers, critics, and scholars alike for her use of irony and social commentary. Indeed, the majority of her work doubles as commentary of the British gentry during the late 18th century.
“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”
Lucille Ball may just be the most famous redhead ever. Though she is best known for her comedic talent, and shows like I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, her long list of accomplishments certainly doesn’t end there. She created, produced, and starred in the aforementioned shows, plus three others. She also became the first woman to run a major television studio, Desilu Productions, in 1962. The company produced a number of early television classics including Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. Over the course of her career, Ball received 13 Emmy Award nominations and four Emmy wins. She won one of the first Women in Film Crystal Awards, the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors, among countless others.
“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”
The beautiful Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman is perhaps most famous for playing the role of Ilsa in the classic 1942 film Casablanca. Though she was born in Europe and starred in a number of European films, Bergman remains one of the most beloved Hollywood actresses of all time. Some of her other roles include Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) and Notorious. Over the course of her career, Bergman was rewarded with three Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, a BAFTA Award, two Emmy Awards, and even a Tony Award.
“Power’s not given to you. You have to take it.”
Beyoncé, or Queen Bey as her most faithful followers call her, is one of today’s most famous pop stars. Beyoncé first hit the scene as the lead singer of Destiny’s Child, a popular R&B girl group which released most of their biggest hits during the 90s. Since going solo in 2003, Beyoncé’s fame has continued to amplify with hits like “Crazy in Love,” “Baby Boy,” “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”, “Irreplaceable,” and “Beautiful Liar,” to name a few. Her career is still going strong. To date Beyoncé has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. She’s taken home 22 Grammy Awards, making her the most nominated female in Grammy history. She’s also won 24 MTV Video Music Awards. She’s also is the world’s highest-paid African American musician in history.
“You can imprison a man, but not an idea. You can exile a man, but not an idea. You can kill a man, but not an idea.”
Benazir Bhutto was truly a woman before her time. Born in Pakistan in 1953, Bhutto served as her country’s prime minister from 1988 to 1990, and from 1993 to 1996. A secular liberal, Bhutto was the first female head of state in a Muslim-majority nation. Countless parties opposed her attempts to advance women’s rights and stifle growing Islamist violence in Pakistan. Bhutto was assassinated by a militant Islamist group in 2007 after attending a political rally.
“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”
Coco Chanel passed away in 1971, but the French fashion designer is still inspiring the modern woman with her timeless sense of style and glamor. Coco, born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in 1883, made a name for herself in the years following World War I. She was credited with freeing women from the “corseted silhouette.” Chanel made popular a more casual, yet no less chic, look which included the famous Little Black Dress said to be in every woman’s closet. The Chanel brand continues its success today. It has expanded from women’s clothing to include handbags, jewelry, and the famous Chanel No. 5 fragrance.
“Drama is very important in life: You have to come on with a bang. You never want to go out with a whimper.”
Dinnertime wouldn’t be the same without the influence of Julia Child, born in 1912, Child became a household name as a chef, author, and the personality behind a number of television shows, including her most famous, The French Chef. Though an American, Child adored French cooking. She’s widely credited with bringing French cuisine to the attention of the American public with her popular cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”
Amelia Earhart certainly knew a little bit about tenacity. As the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic, Earhart became one of the most famous names of the early 20th century. She set a series of aviation records and wrote a number of best-selling books about her flying exploits. She even played a critical role in the foundation of the Ninety-Nines, an organization exclusively for female pilots. In 1937, Earhart was attempting to circumnavigate the globe when her Lockheed Model 10-E Electra disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. The mystery surrounding Earhart’s disappearance continues to this day.
“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
We have Nora Ephron to thank for some of our favorite movies. The journalist, writer, and filmmaker was perhaps best known for writing the screenplays for the films Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie & Julia. The first three films garnered Ephron Academy Award nominations. Ephron was diagnosed with pneumonia brought about by acute myeloid leukemia, and she died in 2012 at the age of 71.
“I may be wearing makeup, but I can throw a fastball by you at the same time.”
It’s true, she can. Jennie Finch was a star softball player, earning the rank of collegiate All-American while pitching for the Arizona Wildcats and the USA national softball team. Finch pitched for the winning team in the 2001 Women’s College World Series. In 2004, she led Team USA to a gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games in Athens. Time magazine named her the most famous softball player in history. Finch currently works as a commentator for National Pro Fastpitch and various college games for ESPN.
“Whoever is happy will make others happy too.”
Although the Nazis murdered some six million people during the Holocaust, few are discussed as frequently as Anne Frank. She was just 13 years old when her family took refuge in the now-famous Secret Annex (hidden rooms in the building of a friend’s business). Anne’s diary documented what it was like to live in hiding. In 1944, her family was betrayed. They were arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp where both Anne and her sister, Margot, died. Despite her untimely death, Anne Frank has continued to live on. Her diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, has inspired millions since its publication. Thousands of visitors annually visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam to learn about this extraordinary young woman.
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
As a child, Jane Goodall was given a stuffed chimpanzee as a gift from her father in lieu of the traditional teddy bear. That gift would prove to be incredibly fateful. Goodall spent more than 55 years in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania where she studied chimpanzees. In 1977, she founded the Jane Goodall Institute, which has become a global leader in the efforts to protect chimpanzees and their habitats. Now considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimps, Jane Goodall continues to work extensively in conservation. She’s even been named a UN Messenger of Peace.
“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says, ‘I’m possible!’”
The stunning and sophisticated Audrey Hepburn had a long resumé which included model, actress, dancer, fashion icon, and humanitarian. As one of the belles of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Hepburn starred in such films as Gigi, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, My Fair Lady, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. During her career, Hepburn was recognized with a BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award, the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and the Special Tony Award. Hepburn is part of a very short list of people who have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony.
“If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”
Erica Jong remains one of the most influential women in the second-wave feminism movement. The American novelist and poet is best known for her book Fear of Flying. Published in 1973 and loaded with satire, Fear of Flying became famous — and extremely controversial — for its views on female sexuality. Jong has published an 10 novels since then, plus a number of non-fiction books and anthology pieces. She remains a voice of the modern feminist movement.
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.”
Helen Keller is one of the most famous subjects in American history. Born both blind and deaf in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Keller became an author, political activist, and lecturer of great renown. Thanks to a patient teacher, Anne Sullivan, Keller learned to read and write as a child — a dramatic and challenging story forever immortalized by the play The Miracle Worker. Keller went on to become the first blind-deaf person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. She spent years campaigning for women’s suffrage, labor rights, and antimilitarism. She was inducted into both the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame.
“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”
Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist who never seemed to shy away from distinguishing herself from others. She authored a number of books. She also spoke frequently to the mass media on such controversial topics as sexual attitudes in the South Pacific and Southeast Asian tradition. Despite the seemingly random topic, Mead became one of the most famous figures of the 1960s sexual revolution for using her studies to promote her belief in the need for broadened sexual mores within typical Western society.
“Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”
Golda Meir fanned the flames of achievement in a time and world in which such things often seemed impossible. Born in 1898 in Kiev, Golda spent her childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she became involved in the Labor Zionist Youth movement. She married a sign painter Morris Meyerson and eventually settled in Palestine. In 1969, Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel. She was the first and only woman in Israeli history to hold that office. Strong-willed and blunt, Meir is still known as the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics.
“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.”
Is there any road Dolly Parton hasn’t paved? She’s a singer, songwriter, record producer, actress, businesswoman, and philanthropist. Parton is one of the most successful and influential figures in the entertainment industry. She has starred in films like 9 to 5 and Steel Magnolias, and composed more than 3,000 songs. These include “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “9 to 5,” and “I Will Always Love You,” which became an international hit for Whitney Houston. Parton has reached #1 on the Billboard country music charts an amazing 25 times. She recorded 41 Top 10 country albums. Among dozens of accomplishments, she’s earned two Academy Award nominations, 10 Country Music Association Awards, three American Music Awards, and a whopping 47 Grammy nominations.
“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
Mother Teresa (born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu) certainly knew a little bit about the power of love. Born in what is now the small country of Macedonia, she spent her childhood fascinated by stories of saints and missionaries. At age 18, she left home to become a nun and missionary, first in Ireland, then in India. For decades, Mother Teresa, or Saint Teresa of Calcutta as she’s known in the Catholic Church, served the poorest population of Calcutta. She survived wars and skirmishes, the Bengal famine of 1943, and countless threats against herself and her work offering “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”
“One of the secrets to staying young is to always do things you don’t know how to do, to keep learning.”
Ruth Reichl is a popular chef, critic, and food writer. She’s known for co-producing Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie and hosting Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth, both on PBS. Reichl has also written a number of bestselling books about her love of food, including Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table, and Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.
“You can waste you life drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them.”
From the day the first episode of Grey’s Anatomy aired on television, Shonda Rhimes has been one of the best known names in entertainment. Well known for “color blind” writing and casting, Rhimes has created, written, and executive produced a series of top-rated shows. These include Private Practice, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and of course, Grey’s Anatomy. Rhimes recently published a memoir entitled Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. She was named one of Time magazine’s “100 People Who Help Shape the World.”
“I firmly believe you never should spend your time being the former anything.”
Condoleezza Rice served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. She was the first African-American woman and the second African-American to hold such the honorable position. Prior to being appointed Secretary of State, Rice served as President Bush’s National Security Advisor, making her the first female to advise a president in that role. Today, Rice is a political science professor at Stanford University. She directs the School of Business’s Global Center for Business and Economy.
“I was smart enough to go through any door that opened.”
Joan Rivers spent a long career proving that she was indeed bright enough to take any opportunity that came her way. Rivers began her career as a comedian on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. She became so popular that she was given her own rival program, The Late Show with Joan Rivers. This made her the first woman to host her own late night network television show. Late Night with Joan Rivers was followed by a daytime talk show, conducting celebrity interviews on the red carpet, and even a turn on Celebrity Apprentice (which she won). In 2017, three years after her unexpected death, Rivers was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. She was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as the 6th best stand-up comic of all time.
“A woman is like a tea bag — you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
The eloquent Eleanor Roosevelt was a diplomat and social activist. She is perhaps best known for being First Lady of the United States and wife to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After a very unhappy adolescence and early marriage, Eleanor took it upon herself to make her life happier. This led to her taking a very vocal stance on issues like civil rights, war refugees, and women’s rights. Eleanor often disagreed with her husband’s policies. She wasn’t shy about sharing her own opinions via her daily newspaper column, her weekly radio show, and her monthly magazine column.
“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”
Margaret Thatcher is at once one of the most beloved and most controversial political figures in history. Born in 1925, Thatcher worked as a research chemist at Oxford, then as a barrister, before becoming a Member of Parliament in 1959. A Conservative, she was the first woman appointed to the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She held this role from 1979 to 1990, making her the longest-serving P.M. of the 20th century. Known for her tough demeanor and aggressive economic initiatives meant to reverse Britain’s high unemployment numbers, she was nicknamed the “Iron Lady.”
“Look your best. Who said love is blind?”
Mae West spent 70 years in the limelight. She was best known as an actress, singer, and all-around sex symbol. But West was also an accomplished comedian, playwright, and screenwriter. She began her career on the vaudeville scene in New York City, before moving to Hollywood. She became what the American Film Institute would later declare “the 15th greatest female star of classic American cinema.” West tended toward controversy throughout her career, often bucking censorship and turning taboo topics into comedic gold.
“Beware of monotony; It’s the mother of all deadly sins.”
Edith Wharton was a prolific American writer best known for novels like The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, The Buccaneers, and Ethan Frome, among others. Her realistic storylines often doubled as commentary on the American aristocracy, a population which she knew well. Her very wealthy family is said to have inspired the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses”. In 1921, Wharton became the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, which she won for The Age of Innocence.
“Step out of the history that is holding you back. Step into the new story you are willing to create.”
Oprah Winfrey — or just Oprah, as she’s known to the masses — is one of the most influential people in the world. Nicknamed the “Queen of All Media,” Oprah has found massive success as a media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and influencer. Oprah grew up in extreme poverty in rural Mississippi. She found a job at a local evening news station at the age of 19. Her talent for talking to people already apparent, Oprah began moving upward until she was given The Oprah Winfrey Show, which ran from 1986 to 2011.
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
Born in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai made international headlines in 2012. She was shot by a Taliban gunman in retaliation for her speaking out about education for girls. Despite taking a bullet to the head, Malala survived and continued to speak out. Now residing in England, Malala continues to advocate for the education of girls worldwide. She co-authored a book about her experiences entitled I Am Malala. Malala has been named by the Pakistani Prime Minister as the “most prominent citizen” of Pakistan. She became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate in the history of the prestigious award.