12 overlooked women whose simple acts changed the world

Rich or poor, famous or common — the influence of women is felt around the world and through the generations. Here is a (very short) list of seven influential women who have changed the world.

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  • Rich or poor, famous or common — the influence of women is felt around the world and through the generations. Here is a (very short) list of twelve influential women who have changed the world.

  • Nancy Hanks Lincoln

  • Although she died when her son was 9 years old, Abraham Lincoln later would memorialize his mother with these words: "All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother." Nancy taught her children to read, to work and to pray. Although she died when he was quite young, President Lincoln credits his mother for his ambition, mental alertness and analytical skills. Though she never rose to political greatness, it was the simple lessons she taught that shaped her son whose strong character shaped the history of the United States and influenced the world.

  • Mother Teresa

  • Known today for her kindness and her wise teachings, Mother Teresa devoted her life to serving the very poorest in India's Calcutta. A Nobel Peace Prize winner, she founded the Missionaries of Charity, an international religious organization of more than 4,500 women that provides hospice care, soup kitchens, orphanages and schools in 133 countries. They also treat leprosy and tuberculosis and care for those with AIDS/HIV, ministering to society's outcasts.

  • Brenda High

  • When Brenda High's son took his life after being bullied at school, she turned her grief into activism. She founded BullyPolice.org and lobbied lawmakers across the country to create and enhance bills that would stop bullying in our schools. Many of the anti-bullying laws in the United States came from this mother's grief.

  • Malala Yousafzai

  • As the youngest-ever recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, at age 17 Yousafzai still is changing the world. She was shot in the head by the Taliban when she was 15 — and survived — for demanding on her blog that girls have the right to be educated, something that she pursues seriously herself. When her chemistry teacher pulled her out of class to tell her she had won the Peace Prize, she celebrated by returning to class.

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  • Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

  • Who can honor Helen Keller without paying homage to Anne Sullivan. Keller's story is inspiring and triumphant; we really can overcome great odds. But, in this case, it was Sullivan who unlocked that dark and quiet cell that held Helen captive.

  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkual Karman

  • This trio of women was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace prize for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, is not only the world's first female president in Africa, she is the first black woman in the world elected as a nation's president. Leymah Gbowee was social worker from the same country. Tawakkual Karman is a journalist and activist from Yeman and mother of three.

  • Toni Morrison

  • Toni Morrison was the first black woman to win the Nobel Peace prize for literature, and that honor is just one blip on her resume which also includes the Pulizer Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom. But it is her teachings that are more valuable than her prizes. Among them, "Freedom is choosing your responsibility. It's not having no responsibilities; it's choosing the ones you want."

  • Ada Yonath

  • Israeli crystallographer Ada Yonath won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her pioneering work on the structure of the ribosome. Her extensive and complex research has helped other scientists understand better how antibiotics work, but it is these four simple tips she shared with scientists that ring true to dreamers the world over. "1) Curiosity. Go after your curiosity. 2) More curiosity 3) Even more curiosity. 4) Passion. It's not enough to be curious – one has to really love what one does."

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  • Sylvia Banda

  • When she was only 12 years old, Sylvia Banda determined she could do anything she put her mind to. Her first business was selling food to her friends. That grew to a small, one-room restaurant. The determination of one small girl is now helping to fight the high levels of poverty in Zambia. Sylvia's company helps Zambian farmers — mostly women — to grow more nutritious food and creates a market so they can sell it. Click here to learn more about Sylvia's path to success.

  • Free to Choose empowers women everywhere to aim for their dreams. Check out their YouTube channel for more.

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Shelly Norman has worked as a journalist for 25 years, both on the editing and writing side. She has a bachelor's degree in communication.

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