Can You Guess What These Famous Women Were Known For?

By: Marie Hullett
Image: werner22brigitte / Pixabay

About This Quiz

In male-dominated societies, the achievements of women are all too often overlooked. Not only did women throughout history have to fight for the right to vote or go to school; many also used male pseudonyms to publish books or wear disguises to fight in combat. In the meantime, they were combating injustices and making groundbreaking scientific discoveries. All in a day's work, right? 

The following quiz contains prolific scientists, inventors, philosophers, writers, politicians, monarchs, Nobel prize winners, military leaders—you name it, and a woman has done it. Since many of these women may have been skipped in your high school history class, though, do you know what they've accomplished? You'll have to take a look at the following photos to find out.

There are too many talented historical women to even count, and sadly, there are many more whose stories have been shrouded or forgotten. Rather than trying to honor them all, this quiz names 40 amazing women you should know. Can you guess what they were known for? Scientist or poet? Human rights campaigner or revolt leader? Prize-winning economist or gifted artist? Take a lesson from these women and give it your all—you never know what might happen!

Mary Wollstonecraft's 1792 book is widely viewed as one of feminism's earliest fundamental texts. The English writer and philosopher argued that men and women should have equality. In particular, she said that women should have the right to education and that spouses should be "companions" rather than the wife serving a subordinate role.

During the Crimean War in 1853 to 1856, Florence Nightingale led British military nurses to Turkey. Nightingale served as a powerful leader, tending to the ill as well as explaining to army services how to prevent avoidable deaths. After the war, Nightingale was essential to the establishment of a permanent military nursing service and many of its subsequent improvements.

In 1918, Marie Stopes wrote the immensely popular book "Married Love" and another called 'Wise Parenthood," which explained the importance of contraception. The birth control advocate and sex educator helped set up London's first birth control clinic in 1921.

Polish-French physicist Marie Curie established the science of radioactivity, which was used to create effective cancer treatments. She also helped discover radium and polonium. For her incredible achievements, Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (in 1903) and the first person ever to win a second Nobel Prize (in 1911).

Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the richest, most powerful women in the Middle Ages after she married Louis VII of France. Then, she divorced him and married the future Henry II of England. As such, she plays an integral role in medieval history of both nations.

Jane Austen remains one of Britain's most famous figures for her renowned novels, which include "Pride and Prejudice," "Sense and Sensibility, "Emma" and "Mansfield Park," all of which were published between 1811 and 1816. Her work is known for its acute sense of humor laced with irony and realism.

In 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American woman from Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat on the bus to let a white person sit down. Police arrested her for civil disobedience. Her protest served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement, which fought for equal rights for black Americans and took place primarily during the 1950s and '60s.

In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women's Social and Political Union in attempt to garner the parliamentary vote for women. The campaign's motto was "Deeds, not words." She encouraged women to demand, rather than to ask, for their democratic right to move. Though police imprisoned her 13 times, she remained vigilant.

In 60 or 61 A.D., Boudicca, Queen of the eastern Britain tribe Iceni, unified different tribes across the region in order to stage a Celtic uprising against Roman rule. Commanding an army of about 100,000, Boudicca successfully drove the Romans out of modern Colchester. As a result, Nero briefly considered withdrawing from Britain, but then Roman governor Paullinus finally defeated her.

The daughter of Lord Byron and Lady Byron, Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, was a mathematician responsible for some of the most important discoveries in the early history of the computer. Obsessed with math and science at a young age, she found that Charles Babbage's theoretical Analytical Engine possessed capabilities beyond simple calculation, and created the first algorithm that could be carried out by such a computer.

In 1922, Amelia Earhart broke the women's altitude record at age 25, just one year after taking up aviation. Ten years later, she became the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic and broke several flying and speed records. In 1937, she commenced a round-the-world flight and became the first person to ever fly from the Red Sea to India. She then went missing and was declared dead by absentia in 1939.

Josephine Butler successfully campaigned for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts in Britain, which required the compulsory, regular medical examination of women thought to be prostitutes, but not the men that saw them. She also fought against child prostitution and international sex trafficking.

Mary Shelley published the literary classic "Frankenstein," alternatively titled "The Modern Prometheus" in 1818. The Gothic novel's combination of the grotesque and heartfelt has earned it an enduring spot in the history of English literature. Her mother was famous feminist writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and her father was philosopher William Godwin.

English crystallographer and chemist Rosalind Franklin's work was integral to understanding the molecular structure of DNA, RNA, viruses, graphite and coal. Franklin laid the groundwork for mapping the human genome, genetic engineering and in-vitro fertilization.

Catherine the Great remained the Empress of Russia from 1762 until 1796, which makes her the nation's longest-ruling female leader. She is remembered as one of Russia's most influential rulers, in part for her position as an advocate for education and a patron of the arts.

In the 1930s, skilled linguist Vera Atkins joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which was an intelligence branch that helped train agents and send them overseas. She quickly rose to become an intelligence officer in the SOE's French unit. After World War II, Atkins found what happened to 117 of the 118 SOE agents who didn't make it home. For her efforts, she received the Croix de Guerre in 1948 and was made a Commandant of the Legion of Honor in 1987.

While Cleopatra VII Philopator is often remembered for her beauty, she was first and foremost an intelligent and formidable ruler. Though she was a native speaker of Koine Greek, she became the first Ptolemaic ruler to learn Egyptian and also knew more than a dozen languages. She was highly educated and led her people through a myriad of challenges.

In the early 19th century, Mary Anning dug large Jurassic skeletons from Britain's cliffs of Lyme Regis that drastically shifted Victorian scientists' views on evolution. Though she had little education, Anning became one of the nation's leading experts on prehistoric life.

At just 17, Joan of Arc convinced French King Charles VII that she saw visions of a religious nature telling her to support him. As a result, the military sent her to the Siege of Orléans. When the siege was lifted, the French offensive hailed her a religious leader and she helped advise on military strategy and secure French victories. The Burgundians eventually captured her and put her in English custody, where she was burned at the stake for heresy. In 1920, she was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint.

Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which helped fight for tree planting, environmental conservation and women's equality. She was the first woman in Eastern and Central Africa to receive a doctorate degree. She was then elected to parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources from 2003 to 2005. In 2004, she became the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for her work toward peace, democracy and sustainability.

English writer Virginia Woolf is best known for acclaimed works including "Mrs. Dalloway," "A Room of One's Own" and "To the Lighthouse." She is remembered as one of the most important 20th century authors, due in part to her implementation of the stream of consciousness style, a novel literary technique.

In 1934, Grace Hopper became the first woman to receive a PhD in mathematics from Yale University. At Harvard and then in the U.S. Navy, she worked on the world's earliest computers and helped develop COBOL, a programming language that led to major military innovations and revolutionized commercial industries.

Simone de Beauvoir's 1949 publication of "The Second Sex," which discussed the oppression of women, strongly influenced post-war feminist theory. In part, the book argued that "one is not born but becomes a woman," a statement still discussed in gender theory today. She also wrote numerous essays, biographies and novels.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's colorful, distinctive paintings recall themes of class, gender and identity as well as the cultural landscape of Mexico. An accident Kahlo suffered at age 18 caused her enduring pain and medical complications, which in part fueled her artistic creations. She was a part of the Mexican Communist Party and is often revered as an icon of Mexican heritage, feminism, LGBTQ rights and disability rights.

Hypatia was an Alexandrian mathematician, philosopher and astronomer who taught at the Neoplatonic school in Alexandria some time around 400 A.D. Her murder at the hands of a mob of Christians in 414 A.D. led to her being known as a martyr for philosophy. She is one of the first female mathematicians of which historians have decent accounts.

From 1804 to 1806, Lemhi Shoshone woman Sacagawea served as a fundamental part of Lewis and Clark's expedition. Along the way, she served as an interpreter and made connections with various Native American tribes. In 2003, the U.S. inducted her into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Even when women were largely confined to writing about topics like fashion, Nellie Bly wrote essential stories about the poor and oppressed. She lived in Mexico and wrote about conditions there; she also pretended to be insane to expose inadequate conditions in mental asylums. Then, she set a new record by traveling the world in 72 days and wrote a book about it.

Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean diplomat and writer who wrote about topics like morality, Latin American identity and motherhood. She became the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945. Today, she appears on the 5,000 Chilean peso bank note.

In 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first American woman with an international pilot's license. Since racial discrimination barred her from American schools, she earned her license in France. However, back in the U.S., race and gender biases still prevented her from becoming a commercial pilot. Instead, she became a stunt flyer, staging the first public flight by an African American woman in the U.S. in 1922. She drew enormous crowds and refused to perform in front of segregated audiences; she also raised money to create a black aviation school.

Socialist Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the globe's first female government head in 1960. She served from 1960 through '65, '70 to '77, and '94 to 2000. She served as an important role model for many aspiring female politicians across the world.

In 1966, African-American nurse Marie Van Brittan Brown filed a patent for the first Closed Circuit Television. Exhausted by police negligence in her high crime rate neighborhood of Queens, New York, she hoped the invention would help promote safety.

Scottish woman Mary Somerville was a renowned science writer and polymath during the early 19th century. Her work was found in the Royal Society's prestigious research journal and her rendition of complex French astronomy became the new standard. She also communicated a number of complicated discoveries to the public.

German-born Maria Merian defied conventional expectations for women in the 17th century by leaving her unhappy marriage and starting her own business. She sold intricate images that she created that depicted the life cycles of insects and plants. Though women had few opportunities to travel or study science, she traveled to South America to record exotic wildlife. For generations afterward, scientists studied her incredible works.

Joan Robinson is known as one of the most important economists of the 20th century due to her role in shifting the understanding of labor markets. Robinson pointed out that by finding flaws in markets, one can address low wages and hidden unemployment. In 1979, King's College named her an honorary fellow, the first woman with that title.

In order to have her work taken seriously, Mary Anne Evans decided to use a male pen name. She published seven successful novels, including "Middlemarch, "Slias Marner" and "Adam Bede." Her books covered topics like religion, industrialization and marriage and were renowned for their psychological insight.

Once a concubine for Xianfeng Emperor, Dowager Empress Cixi would become one of the most powerful women in the history of China. After giving birth to the son of the Xianfgeng Emperor, she became the Empress Dowager after his death. She ousted a group of regents to obtain regency and maintained control of China for nearly 50 years. Though she instated economic and military reforms that helped China become a more modern power, she is also known for overseeing political murders.

Sarojini Naidu became the first Indian woman to serve as president of the Indian National Congress and to become an Indian state governor. In 1917, she founded the Women's India Association and later would play a fundamental role in colonial India's civil disobedience movement.

Records indicate that about 1,000 women joined the Russian army in World War I, but most disguised their gender. Bochkareva did not. After the first Russian revolution in 1917, she became the commander of Russia's first all-female Battalion of Death during a time when no other nations allowed women in combat. Her battalion succeeded in securing German trenches on the Eastern front.

Murasaki Shikibu was a Japanese novelist, poet and lady-in-waiting during the nation's Heian period. She wrote the novel "The Tale of Genji," which was written some time between 1000 and 1012 and is revered today as a masterpiece of literature. It is Japan's oldest novel and possibly the first novel still recorded in the history of the world.

In 1732, this Italian physicist and academic became the first woman to become a professor in Europe. She specialized in the exciting new field of electricity and managed to negotiate a top salary at the school.

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes