12 Influential Women From History Who Don't Get The Credit They Deserve

Voting Rules
Vote up the women from history who need some serious attention.

The 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of massive change for women. Enfranchisement efforts, social reforms, and labor movements were heavily influenced by women - endeavors that circled back to change their circumstances in nearly every walk of life. 

There are some popular women from history whose names you might recognize. Women's rights activists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example, are in history textbooks, while Civil Rights pioneers (such as Rosa Parks) and scientists (the likes of Marie Curie) are well known.  

What about the women you've never heard of that were just as significant in terms of their contributions to society? There are a host of women researchers, activists, and influencers in history who have gone unrecognized - or, at least, under-recognized - for how much they helped shape the modern world. Vote up the women in history who you think have gone overlooked for far too long. 

  • From Redditor /u/KungFu-omega-warrior:

    Nellie Bly. She was a 1890s journalist who was given an assignment to investigate the Woman’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island due to accusations of the mistreatment of patients. She got in there by faking insanity and getting herself committed to the asylum, and when she was finally released, she ran an exposé in the New York World called Ten Days In A Madhouse that exposed the awful treatment of patients inside the asylum. This was considered a revolution in investigative journalism. Also, she read Around The World In 80 Days, basically decided she could do better, and went around the world in 72 days. She was also an inventor, and was one of the primary journalists to cover the suffragette movement. She's one of my favorite historical figures who doesn’t get enough attention!


    Nellie Bly, whose given name was Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, was born and raised in Pennsylvania in 1864. She began writing under her pseudonym after taking her first job with the Pittsburgh Dispatch. As a newspaper reporter, Bly exposed the conditions women experienced working in factories. After a brief time in Mexico, Bly went to New York City, where the New York World, helmed by Joseph Pulitzer, assigned her to go undercover at the Women's Lunatic Asylum. 

    Bly had herself committed and spent 10 days at the facility. Her account of the experience revealed startling abuse of patients and prompted authorities to investigate the asylum. 

    After her exposé, Bly was sent on a trip around the world in 1889 - one that was supposed to last 72 days and best Phileas Fogg, the character from Jules Verne's novel, Around the World In Eighty Days. Her efforts were successful and she made the journey - via ship, horse, and numerous other modes of transportation - in just over her allotted 72 days. 

    Bly went on to report about industrialization, WWI, and the women's suffrage movement before dying of pneumonia in 1922.

    128 votes
  • From Redditor /u/PhantomKitten73:

    Marie Tharp; she created the first map of the ocean floor, which led to the discovery of tectonic plates, and the theory of continental drift.


    Michigan native Marie Tharp studied English, art, and music at Ohio University during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Tharp then pursued a degree in geology, one that was supposed to guarantee her a job in the petroleum industry. She worked in Oklahoma and New York before meeting Bruce Heezen, with whom she would collaborate during the 1950s.

    Heezen and Tharp used SONAR to measure the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1952 or 1953, Tharp noticed a rift valley, one she believed was formed by shifting plates on the seafloor.  Heezen initially dismissed her find, but as she presented more and more evidence of underwater seismic activity, he was convinced. Her findings influenced the creation of plate tectonic theory, as Tharp and Heezen continued mapping the world's ocean bottoms:

    I was so busy making maps I let them argue. I figured I’d show them a picture of where the rift valley was and where it pulled apart.... There’s truth to the old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words and that seeing is believing.

    88 votes
  • From Redditor /u/neitral-fella:

    Cecilia Payne, discovered what universe is made out of... And don't even get a mention in textbooks.


    In 1925, when Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin put forward in her doctoral thesis that stellar atmospheres were made up of hydrogen and helium, she was dismissed by her contemporaries. Payne-Gaposchkin , the first woman to earn a doctorate in astronomy from Harvard (through its female affiliate, Radcliffe College), was challenging the prevailing belief that stars and the Earth were made of the same elements. Even though Payne-Gaposchkin had research to back up her assertions, she added a line to her dissertation that her calculations were "almost certainly not real."

    Payne-Gaposchkin went on to have a career as an instructor, later chairing the Astronomy Department at Harvard. It wasn't until 1976 that she was recognized for her work by the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

    As she accepted an award from the AAS, Payne-Gaposchkin noted, "The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something." 

    86 votes
  • Without Rosalind Franklin, Scientists Wouldn't Know The Structure Of DNA
    Photo: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    From Redditor /u/YesACake:

    Rosalind Franklin.

    Watson and Crick basically stole her research and used it to discover the shape of DNA. They were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery. Once the theft was discovered, and she was given proper credit, she had already died from cancer (her work specialized in X-rays and she had been exposed to too much radiation). The Nobel Committee has acknowledged her contribution to science, but they can't give her an award because they do not give out awards posthumously.


    Rosalind Franklin, a British-born scientist, studied at Cambridge, earning a doctorate in 1945. She moved to Paris after WWII and began using X-ray crystallogy under the guidance of Jaques Mering. When she returned to England in 1950, Franklin applied her knowledge of X-ray detraction to DNA. As a researcher at King's College London, Franklin and graduate student Raymond Gosling discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. 

    Franklin's discovery, however, was leaked to two scientists at Cambridge, Francis Crick and James Watson. One of Franklin's colleagues, Maurice Wilkins showed them her work, which they used to guide their "discovery" of the double-helix structure in April 1953. 

    Crick and Watson won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1962. Franklin, who died four years earlier, received mention in a footnote of their work. After her death, she was praised for her contributions to the field by fellow scientist John Desmond Bernal:

    As a scientist Miss Franklin was distinguished by extreme clarity and perfection in everything she undertook... Her photographs were among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken. Their excellence was the fruit of extreme care in preparation and mounting of the specimens as well as in the taking of the photographs.

    159 votes
  • From Redditor /u/anthropology_nerd:

    In 1952 Dr. Virginia Apgar developed a quick, easy five-point test that summarizes health of newborns, and determines those needing emergency assistance. The Apgar Score is now given to practically every newborn, and helped save countless young lives, and reduce infant mortality.


    Virginia Apgar completed her medical degree in 1933 and her residency in 1937. She initially wanted to be a surgeon but was encouraged to work in anesthesiology instead. She embraced the specialty and, after studying the discipline, served as the director of anesthesia at her alma mater, Columbia University, in 1938.

    As she helped anesthesia gain recognition among her medical colleagues, Apgar shifted her focus to obstetrical anesthesia. She researched the effect of anesthesia upon mothers and babies during labor, developing a test to assess how newborns performed once out of the womb. Her five-point assessment observed, "heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, reflex response, and color...[giving] 0, 1, or 2 points [for each]. The points are then totaled to arrive at the baby's score."

    Apgar developed her technique in 1952, and it was distributed within the medical community the following year. Slowly, physicians began to take an Apgar score one minute after birth, and again five minutes after birth. Data soon indicated that the Apgar test could identify potential respiratory or heart problems that threatened an infant's life and, in the process, lower infant mortality rates. 

    193 votes
  • 6
    142 VOTES

    Elizebeth Friedman Was A Master Codebreaker During WWII

    From Redditor /u/iwannariedraptor:

    Elizabeth Friedman was a huge part of the American side of the code breaking. Her and her husband were originally tasked with training a lot of the first code breakers to fight the mafia during Prohibition. Her husband was set up with official government business during the war and she was given an office of people to train. They often worked with the Bletchly Park people.


    Elizebeth Smith Friedman was born in Indiana in 1892, graduated from college in 1915, and married William Friedman in 1917. Together, William and Elizebeth worked as codebreakers during WWI and, through the 1920s, offered their code-breaking services to a host of government agencies in Washington, DC. 

    Elizebeth Friedman's cryptoanalytic acumen had alcohol and drug smugglers on the run and, during the 1940s, she cracked codes that disrupted Nazi affiliates in South America. She also developed security systems for the International Monetary Fund. After retiring, the Friedmans returned to cracking a code that had interested her in college, purported ciphers in the works of William Shakespeare. They debunked theories that Francis Bacon was actually the author of Shakespeare's work in 1957.

    142 votes