40 International Women

Michelle Obama

Our First Lady is loved all around the world. She has double cheek-kissed the first lady of France and hugged the queen of England, who by the way adores her.

Oprah Winfrey

The media queen opened a school in South Africa for underprivileged girls.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is considered one of the great voices of contemporary Black literature and as a remarkable Renaissance woman worldwide.

Angela Davis

Angela Davis caught the world’s attention when she was put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list in 1970, she was a suspect in an abduction and murder of Judge Harold Haley in California. Today, she is an activist, professor and writer promoting women’s rights and racial justice.

Alicia Keys

This gifted superstar decided to help fight against AIDS on an international level with her organization ‘Keep a Child Alive’ project that helps care and support orphans in Africa.


Beyonce is known worldwide. Her I AM… World Tour has been ranked a #1 concert attraction around the globe.

Bessie Coleman

The first Black woman aviator, she learned to fly from top pilots in France, where she earned her international pilot’s license on June 15, 1921.

Ella Fitzgerald

Her voice is respected in the jazz world internationally.

Sojourner Truth

She traveled the country giving speeches, including a famous one entitled, ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ that emphasized the strength and power of women and the need for equality between the sexes.

Ann Fudge

Before this ambitious businesswoman turned 50 she was in charged of the $5 billion beverages, desserts and post division of Kraft General Foods.

Cassandra Quinn Butts

She holds the position as deputy White House counsel with a focus on domestic policy and ethics. She was an election observer in the 2000 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections.

Katherine Dunham

She formed the first United State Black modern-dance company and choreographed more than 90 works for the stage. She was honored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the governments of Brazil, Haiti and France.


Odetta was one of the best known voices of the 1950s and 60s. She sang a mix of folk, blues and gospel. The South African performer was often referred to as “The Queen of American Folk Music.”

Harriet Tubman

She was able to free her family and numerous other slaves throughout the years, taking them as far as Canada and helping them find safe jobs.

Ursula Burns

She is the first Black woman to be CEO of a fortune 500 company. She now heads Xerox an international corporation.

Hazel Scott

A musical prodigy and ended up breaking down racial barriers in the recording and film industries on a international level.

Ida B. Wells

A fearless anti-lynching crusader, suffragist, women’s rights advocate, journalist, and speaker.

Patricia Bath

The first Black woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention.

Wangari Maathai

She is the first African woman to be awarded the peace prize since it was created in 1901. Maathai received the award because of her work as an environmentalist and human rights campaigner.

Katherine Mary Dunham

She formed the first United State Black modern-dance company and choreographed more than 90 works for the stage. She was honored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the governments of Brazil, Haiti and France.

Susan Rice

She is the White House ambassador to the United Nations. Rice was also a top diplomat for African issues during the 1998 terrorist bombings of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

Harriet Jacobs

She penned the internationally recognized autobiography, ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.’

Shawna Kimbrell

She is the first female African-American fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. She has been awarded by the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Korean Defense Service Medal.

Lisa Jackson

She is the White House administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency leading the Green movement on a global level.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

In 1978 she founded her employment staffing firm, ACT-1, which now has 70 nationwide branches, making it the largest American company of its kind owned by a woman of color. The company also has technology and service delivery throughout North America, Western Europe and India.

Mae Jemison

She has impacted the space travel internationally.

Toni Morrison

Her work is recognized worldwide. She published ‘Jazz’ in 1992 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Winnie Mandela

She is the head of the African National Congree Women’s League in South Africa.

Shirley Chisholm

She ran for President of the United States in 1972. Her bravery to take the highest office in government gained her international influence.

President of Liberia

President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is Africa’s first elected female head of state, she has taken on corruption, helped get some of Liberia’s debt canceled and rebuilt the army with the support of the United States.

Patricia R. Harris

Harris was appointed ambassador to Luxembourg by President Lyndon Johnson.

Dr. Helene Gayle

She is currently the leader of an international humanitarian organization, but she worked to combat HIV/AIDS for 20 years as director of the AIDS program at the Centers for Disease Control.

Gwendolyn Brooks

The first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Shirley Ann Jackson

President Bill Clinton appointed her as the first African-American woman to serve as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She discovered an “emerging gap” of workers, specifically women and minorities, in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Majora Carter

The Bronx, New York native is one of the city’s best-known advocates for environmental justice. She was awarded a 2005 MacArthur “genius” grant.

Olufunmilayo Olopade

She was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2005.She heads a West African clinical trial for a pill form of chemotherapy as treatment for women with advanced breast cancer.

Edwidge Danticat

Another MacArthur fellow class of 2009. She is a brilliant novelist whose moving and insightful depictions of Haiti’s complex history are enriching our understanding of the Haitian immigrant experience.

Chimamanda Adichie

A young writer who illuminates the complexities of human experience in works inspired by events in her homeland Nigeria, she is also a 2008 MacArthur fellow.

Regina Benjamin

Dr. Benjamin is the United States surgeon general. The 2009 MacArthur fellow is skilled in translating research on preventive health measures into accessible, community-based interventions to decrease the disease burdens of her diverse patient base, which includes immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

Dr. Treena Arinzeh

She is one of the pioneers of adult stem cell therapy. Her discovery that adult stem cells can be transplanted from one person to another without being rejected had a major impact in the field and in the world.

Dr. Kathie-Ann P. Joseph

This talented doctor is best known for her research on the causes of and treatment for breast cancer.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of ESSENCE magazine, Women’s History Month, and this past Monday being International Women’s Day, we present 40 women who have influenced the world. Check out who made our list. Let us know who you would add below… Read more: