Illustration by Lorenza Cotellessa

International Women’s Day is on the 8th March and to celebrate, we’re stepping back through time to highlight some of the world’s most inspirational women. From changing the world, to trying to save it, to soaring beyond it – these are their incredible stories.

Novel ideas: Jane Austen
Writing in the early 19th century, Jane Austen is easily one of the most influential literary figures of all time, which is why it’s important to recognise that, because of her gender and status in society, she initially had to publish anonymously. Her novels are now so integral to the literary canon that she features on the reverse of a British £10 note – one of only three women (other than the Queen) to do so.

Women in tech: Ada Lovelace
Working with Charles Babbage in the 19th century, Ada Lovelace is credited with seeing the true potential in computing. Her ‘poetry in science’ approach led her to develop the first computer algorithm. Fun fact, Lovelace was only introduced to mathematics because her mother the ‘Princess of Parallelograms’ was concerned that she’d turn out like her father, the romantic poet and serial philanderer, Lord Byron.

Out of this world: Mae Jemison
As the first black woman to travel into space, Mae Jemison didn’t just break through the glass ceiling, she soared above it. Having watched the Apollo missions as a child, she was struck by the lack of female astronauts, so after obtaining an M.D degree and joining the Peace Corps, Jemison joined NASA in 1987. She finally made it into space in 1992, where she proved that even top scientists have a sense of humour, beginning each shift with, “hailing frequencies open”, a quote from Star Trek.

Driving change: Rosa Parks
They say you should always stand up for what you believe in, but Rosa Parks created a wave of change by staying seated. When she refused to give up her space on bus 2857 in 1955, Parks sparked a movement that ultimately found segregation unconstitutional in the USA. After her arrest, momentum for the bus boycott grew and Parks became an international symbol for resistance - it’s no wonder she’s been called the ‘first lady of civil rights’.

Green machine: Greta Thunberg
When it comes to speaking up for the planet, Greta Thunberg knows how to make an impact. From her school strikes for the climate to her showstopping ‘our house is on fire’ speech, Thunberg is a real force for change – and she started campaigning when she was just fifteen. She also has a wicked sense of humour, when a contestant on the BBC’s ‘Celebrity Mastermind’ guessed her name was ‘Sharon’ instead of Greta, she promptly changed her name on Twitter.

She gets our vote: Emmeline Pankhurst
As one of the key organisers of the women’s suffrage movement in Britain, Emmeline Pankhurst helped secure women’s right to vote. Her forty-year campaign, which included many stints in prison and hunger strikes, only resulted in success in the year of her death. Interestingly, when Pankhurst was a child, she reportedly heard her father saying, “what a pity she wasn’t born a lad” – it’s a good thing that she wasn’t!

We hope you have enjoyed our list of inspirational women. If you know someone who deserves a mention this International Women’s Day, we’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.