Finding a role model in the modern world is like finding a needle in a haystack. There are plenty of outstanding women, but only a few rises to the top.
In this article, you’ll find out our top 5 women who made a difference in the world. How did they start, and how do they change the world.
Former first lady of the US, lawyer, and fashion icon
Coming from a humble background, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama was unlike the other US first ladies that came before her.
Her father was a city-pump operator with modest pay, but social class did not stop her from becoming the woman that America has come to love, respect, and admire
A Daughter First
Long before she became the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS), Michelle Obama was first and foremost a dutiful daughter and an excellent student. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Michelle lived in a bungalow with her parents and her brother Craig.
In high school, Michelle was class salutatorian. She was accepted to Princeton University, where she majored in sociology with a minor in African-American studies
After graduating cum laude at Princeton, Michelle entered Harvard Law School where she earned her J.D. She joined the law firm Sidley Austin, where she met Barack Obama, then a summer intern. Long story short, the two fell in love and became two of the most influential people in the United States.
The Strength and Grace of Michelle Obama
When Barack Obama was sworn into office as US president, Michelle was thrown into the spotlight as the US First Lady, a role that she gladly performed with all her strength and grace.
With her African-American heritage, Michelle did not expect her role to be an easy one.
In her book Becoming, the former First Lady recounted how she felt when her husband Barack Obama was sworn in as president:
“If there was a presumed grace assigned to my white predecessors, I knew it wasn’t likely to be the same for me.”
Despite the challenges, Michelle maintained her grace and modesty. The former first lady has an unassuming air about her as can be seen in most of her interviews. This humility is one of the things that endeared her to many Americans.
Producer, talk show host, actress, and philanthropist
Oprah Winfrey may be the first African-American woman billionaire, but her childhood was anything but easy. Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Oprah knew at an early age what it means to work hard.
A smart girl with a knack for communication and acting, Oprah learned to read at two and a half years old. She used to entertain herself by acting in front of animals, her only audience back when she was little.
Little did she know that her “playacting” would eventually turn into a lucrative career in television. The events that happened in her teenage years shaped Oprah to become the successful media mogul that she is today:
- At 12 years old, she earned $500 for a speech she made–a turning point in Oprah’s life that made her realize she could make a living out of speaking in front of people.
- A year after winning a full scholarship to the Tennessee State University, Oprah was hired to read afternoon newscasts at a local radio station, the WVOL, at Nashville.
- In her sophomore year, Oprah received an offer from a Nashville Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) affiliate. She became the first African-American female co-anchor.
- After college, she did a stint at Good Morning, American doing local news updates. She then hosted the morning show Baltimore Is Talking for several years before being discovered by the WLS-TV, an American Broadcasting Company’s (ABC) Chicago affiliate.
A Big Break
But it was in January 1984 when Oprah had a big break in the world of television. Oprah was hired as an anchor on A.M. Chicago, a morning talk show that didn’t do very well. Talking about traditional women’s issue didn’t do much for the show’s ratings, so Oprah decided to talk about controversial topics instead.
In only a couple of months, the show became widely successful and was later renamed the Oprah Winfrey Show. And as they say, the rest is history.
Since then, Oprah had immersed herself in various projects including acting in the movie The Color Purple, founded her own company (Harpo, Inc.), started an on-air reading club to inspire people to read, and donated to various charitable organizations and institutions.
Nobel Peace Prize awardee ( 2014), children and women’s rights activist
In the small town of Swat in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai was like any other girl hoping for a bright future ahead. Except that she (and thousands of other Pakistani girls like her) weren’t allowed to go to school.
The daughter of a school teacher and owner, Malala loved learning. When the Taliban took control of their town, many of the privileges they used to enjoy were banned. Watching television, playing music, and going to school were forbidden.
Becoming the Target
For a girl who was raised to love school and education, Malala found the new Taliban rule to be oppressing. She stopped going to school when she was only 11 years old, but this did not stop her from speaking her mind and motivating other girls to fight for their right to learn.
She blogged about her experiences for BBC, and this made her a target of extremists. In October 2012, Malala was on her way home from school when a gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head.
Malala was transported to England, where she was treated for her injuries. After 10 days of unconsciousness, Malala woke from unconsciousness. Several surgeries later, she found herself in a new home together with her family.
No Ordinary Life
This was a turning point for Malala who could have chosen to stay quiet and live a normal life with her family in the UK. But with her new life, Malala decided to fight for other girls’ right to education.
Through the Malala Fund, this young Pakistani girl went on a mission to help young girls have the opportunity to study. In 2014, Malala became the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize award for her courageous work.
Inspired by her father, Malala championed the rights of girls and women. Today, she studies at the University of Oxford where she learns about Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Malala travels to other countries to help girls voice out their stories.
UK’s best-selling living author, single mother
Joanne Rowling (aka J.K. Rowling) is one of the wealthiest women in the world. But her journey toward becoming a best-selling author was not easy.
At a young age, Rowling knew that she wanted to become an author. Her first ever story was about a rabbit, which earned the admiration of her first-ever fan, her mother.
The Death of a Fan
As a teenager, Rowling’s life was challenging to say the least. Her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that tested the family’s strength.
In an article published in The New Yorker, Rowling admitted that she was unhappy. According to her, the most traumatizing day of her life was when her mother died. Rowling’s mother passed without knowing that her daughter has begun writing what would be one of the most popular and well-loved stories of all time–Harry Potter.
Her mother’s death was instrumental to the creation of some of the scenes in Harry Potter–notably, the death of Harry’s parents when he was young.
An All-Time Low
Taking a respite from writing her novel, Rowling moved to Portugal to teach English. There she met her then-husband, Jorge Arantes, with whom she shares a daughter with. Living in Portugal had been difficult for Rowling, who lived in an apartment together with her husband and mother-in-law.
After 13 months of marriage, Rowling and her husband parted ways. The author found herself back in the UK with her daughter, Jessica. Moving back to the UK was an all-time low for Rowling, who depended on welfare to feed herself and her daughter.
Depression hit her, and at one point in her life, she thought about committing suicide. Despite the challenges, Rowling carried on with writing the first Harry Potter novel. Writing in small cafes while her daughter sleeps, Rowling finished her novel.
The struggles continued as finding a book publisher seemed to be an impossible feat. After being rejected by many publishers, Rowling found an ally with Bloomsbury, a London publishing house.
A Name Like No Other
With the go-signal from her publisher, Rowling was ready to publish her first book on one request–that she use the male-sounding pen name J.K. Rowling.
This move proved to be well worth it, as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was widely read by young boys, a target audience she would probably have a hard time reaching had she used her real name.
Today, the name J.K. Rowling is synonymous to fantasy, of wizards and magic. Rowling became a top author and billionaire and sponsors several charities. A textbook rags-to-riches story, Rowling’s life has become magical like the characters she created in the Harry Potter series.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, advocate for the fair treatment of women
Rarely would a Supreme Court Justice be considered a pop culture icon. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg proved to be worthy of title.
Popularly known among the younger generations as the Notorious RBG, Ginsburg is a no-nonsense women’s rights activist and a trailblazer in the field of law.
An inspiration to many women, Ginsburg came from humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York. She was raised in a household where education is given high importance–an achievement in itself that can be attributed to her mother Celia.
Ginsburg’s mother was instrumental to Ruth’s determination to excel in her studies. Celia, a worker in a garment factory, sacrificed her own education to pay for her brother’s studies. This was instilled in the young girl’s mind and shaped her to become one of the most brilliant students in her school.
The day before her high school graduation, Ginsburg’s mother passed away. Ginsburg pushed through earning a degree at Cornell University, finishing at the top of her class in 1954.
On the same year, she married Martin D. Ginsburg, a law student at Cornell. Their marriage was a challenging one in that Martin was drafted into the military for two years–just right after their daughter was born.
Gender Discrimination and the Fight for Equality
Upon the return of her husband, Ruth and Martin enrolled at Harvard University, where she became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review. Martin, unfortunately, contracted testicular cancer. While her husband underwent treatment, Ruth took notes for her husband, who was lucky to recuperate from the disease.
The couple transferred to New York City, where Martin was offered a job. Ruth struggled with employment, as most firms prefer males over females. She finally landed a job as a professor at the Columbia Law School, where she became the first female tenured professor.
Ginsburg became the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. In the 1980s, she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by former US President Jimmy Carter.
By 1993, President Bill Clinton asked Ruth to fill in the seat of justice Byron White. Ruth was considered a member of the Supreme Court’s moderate-liberal bloc and fought the good fight starting with gender discrimination.