Weird History
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The Greatest Renaissance Women in American History

Updated September 22, 2021 4.2k votes 680 voters 28.8k views19 items

List RulesPeople on this list must be 1) American women who 2) have proven expertise in more than one field. Can be from any time in American history.

While many technical and scientific professions were closed off to women until recently, renaissance women still managed to make their mark on American history. These polymaths excelled in a wide range of fields, from business to medicine to politics. Famous renaissance women have led incredible lives while breaking the traditional barriers that kept them out of their fields.

Did you know that Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States while also being a prominent social and moral reformer? Or that actress Hedy Lamarr also helped invent innovative radio communications technology that's used in modern Wi-Fi? Or that TV chef and author Julia Child was also an intelligence officer in World War II whose activities weren't declassified until 2008?

These American women changed history and excelled in multiple fields, while usually also balancing the rigors of family life and raising children. Upvote the most remarkable renaissance woman or women you see below and add any talented females throughout American history who have made a difference and excelled in a variety fields, arts, and industries.
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  • Photo: Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection / Getty Images
    Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (née Murray December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, she was a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first linkers. She popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today. Prior to joining the Navy, Hopper earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University and was a professor of mathematics at Vassar College. Hopper attempted to enlist in the Navy during World War II but was rejected because she was 34...  more
    • Age: Dec. at 85 (1906-1992)
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York
    • Profession: Programmer, Mathematician, Computer scientist, Scientist
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  • Photo: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images
    Hedy Lamarr (), born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler; November 9, 1914 – January 19, 2000) was an Austrian-born American film actress and inventor.After a brief early film career in Czechoslovakia, including the controversial Ecstasy (1933), she fled from her husband, a wealthy Austrian ammunition manufacturer, and secretly moved to Paris. Traveling to London, she met Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio head Louis B. Mayer, who offered her a movie contract in Hollywood. She became a film star with her performance in Algiers (1938). Her MGM films include Lady of the Tropics (1939), Boom Town (1940), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), and White Cargo (1942). Her greatest success was as Delilah in Cecil B....  more
    • Age: Dec. at 85 (1914-2000)
    • Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
    • Profession: Pin-up girl, Inventor, Scientist, Actor, Engineer
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    #94 of 349 The Best Actresses In Film History#120 of 238 Which Actor Would You Bring Back for One Final Movie?#847 of 1,355 The Greatest Minds of All Time

  • Photo: Chicago History Museum / Getty Images
    Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931) was an African-American investigative journalist, educator, and an early leader in the civil rights movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She arguably became the most famous black woman in America, during a life that was centered on combating prejudice and violence, who fought for equality for African Americans, especially women.Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War. At the age of 16, she lost both her parents and her infant brother in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic....  more
    • Age: Dec. at 68 (1862-1931)
    • Birthplace: Holly Springs, Mississippi
    • Profession: Journalist, Women's rights activist
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  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    Sally Kristen Ride (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012) was an American astronaut and physicist. Born in Los Angeles, she joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in space in 1983. Ride was the third woman in space overall, after USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982). Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space, having done so at the age of 32. After flying twice on the Orbiter Challenger, she left NASA in 1987. Ride worked for two years at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control, then at the University of California, San Diego as a professor of physics, primarily researching nonlinear...  more
    • Age: Dec. at 61 (1951-2012)
    • Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States of America
    • Profession: Physicist, Astronaut
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    #152 of 753 People We Wish Were Still Alive#217 of 316 The Greatest American Actresses Of All Time#51 of 319 The Most Inspiring (Non-Hollywood) Female Role Models