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The Most Influential Women of the 21st Century

24/7 Wall St. logo 24/7 Wall St. 2/10/2019 John Harrington

J. K. Rowling posing for the camera © Photo by John Phillips / Getty Images If a story about the most influential women of the 20th century were written 100 years ago, the choices would have been limited. Outside of female stars in the emerging movie industry or altruistic women in the moneyed classes, women had little influence on society.

That began to change on Aug. 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. In November of that year, more than 8 million American women voted for the first time. That put women on a path to greater political influence, enabling them to exercise their clout in, among other areas, the workplace, health care, public forums, and public schools. New Zealand and Australia had already passed suffrage laws, and the United Kingdom granted women the right to vote on a limited basis. Saudi Arabia allowed women to vote in 2011.

In the United States, it was only a start. It would take the work opportunities from World War II and then the feminist movement to further broaden the possibilities for women. For African American women, the road was steeper still, even with the passage of Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts in the 1960s.

The year 1919 seems like more than a lifetime ago. Today, women’s influence can be found in every sphere of human activity. 24/7 Wall St. is taking this opportunity to acknowledge the most influential women of the 21st century in such fields as politics, business, education, technology, entertainment, and sports.


24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of the 31 most influential women of the 21st century based on the number of Wikipedia page views they received, their achievements, and their notoriety.

Click here to see the most influential women of the 21st century.

Ellen DeGeneres posing for the camera © Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Ellen DeGeneres
>Area of influence: Entertainment
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 9,651,548

According to a poll by Variety magazine in 2015, Ellen DeGeneres did more to influence American attitudes in regard to gay rights than any other celebrity. The talk show host came out as gay in 1997 -- and so did her character on her sitcom "Ellen."

a woman posing for a picture © Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

Ai-jen Poo
>Area of influence: Activism
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 47,913

Ai-jen Poo was a driving force behind the worker-led movement Domestic Workers United in New York City. The organization's campaigns led to better conditions for domestic workers, raised awareness of economic contributions that domestic workers provide, helped get legal representation for abused workers, and crafted a framework of legal standards for workers.

Malala Yousafzai wearing a red hat and looking at the camera © Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Malala Yousafzai
>Area of influence: Women's rights
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 4,968,380

Malala Yousafzai, an advocate for women's education rights, won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, making her the youngest recipient ever. The attempt on her life when she was on her way to school led to her native Pakistan to pass that nation's first Right to Education Bill.

a person on a stage © Paras Griffin / Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey
>Area of influence: Entertainment/activism
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 7,904,943

Oprah Winfrey, the first African-American female billionaire, has had a significant influence on American culture since her time as a television talk show host. She played a key role in the emergence of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate and continues to be politically active. An indication of her influence? The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is holding an exhibition titled "Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture."

Nancy Pelosi et al. standing in a room © Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Nancy Pelosi
>Area of influence: Politics
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 7,360,538

After the Democratic Party regained control of the House of Representatives in January, Nancy Pelosi returned as Speaker of the House. Pelosi, who has been in Congress since 1987, was one of the prime movers behind the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 during her first tenure as Speaker of the House.

Judith Butler posing for the camera © gaelx / Flickr

Judith Butler
>Area of influence: Activism
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 754,640

Judith Butler is a philosopher and gender theorist who has written influential books on feminist and gay topics. Her books, such as "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity" and "Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex," challenge conventions about gender.

Angela Merkel wearing a green shirt © Pool / Getty Images

Angela Merkel
>Area of influence: Politics
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 4,795,834

Germany's first female chancellor has led Europe's most populous nation since 2005. Angela Merkel is a staunch supporter of the European Union and is credited with holding it together during the eurozone debt-crisis years. She has been seen as a polarizing figure, particularly in her handling of the refugee crisis in 2015 and 2016.

© Kevin Winter / Getty Images

>Area of influence: Entertainment
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 12,624,794

Beyonce has more Grammy nominations, 66, than any other female performer, and she has won 22 times. She is an icon for feminism and for African American culture. She dipped her toe into politics at Super Bowl 50, when she had her backup singers dress in black with black berets and afros to protest racial injustice.

Christine Lagarde with his mouth open © Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Christine Lagarde
>Area of influence: Finance
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 714,633

Christine Lagarde is the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and she has helmed the IMF since 2011. Over that time, Lagarde has helped the international community manage the eurozone debt crisis and the possibility of a trade war between the United States and China, the world's two largest economies.

a woman who is smiling and looking at the camera © Eco Wave Power / Wikimedia Commons

Inna Braverman
>Area of influence: Energy
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 3,740

Israeli entrepreneur Inna Braverman is the co-founder of Eco Wave Power, a company that is using the power of oceanic waves to produce clean energy. Braverman designed and created a commercially feasible wave energy plant in Gibraltar that supplies 15% of the British territory's electricity. Braverman, who survived the Chernobyl nuclear accident when she was an infant, opened her first power plant in Jaffa, Israel, when she was 26 years old.

Indra Nooyi holding a sign © World Economic Forum / Wikimedia Commons

Indra Nooyi
>Area of influence: Business
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 1,453,586

Indra Nooyi served as CEO of PepsiCo from 2006 to 2018, and over that time, the company's revenue rose 80%. Nooyi has been candid about the struggle to balance the pressure of leading one of the world's largest beverage companies with her home life.

J. K. Rowling wearing a white shirt © John Phillips / Getty Images

J.K. Rowling
>Area of influence: Literature
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 42,778

J.K. Rowling emerged from relative poverty in the United Kingdom to become the world's first billionaire author as the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy book series. Her influence was such that she was the runner-up as Time magazine's person of the year in 2007 because her books had been such an inspiration for her fans.

Yoani Sanchez smiling for the camera © Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

Yoani María Sánchez Cordero
>Area of influence: Activism
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 898

Yoani María Sánchez Cordero is a Cuban journalist and entrepreneur who gained notoriety and fans such as President Barack Obama for writing critically about Cuban daily life. She depicts life on the island nation through her blog "Generación Y" that is translated into 17 languages. Sánchez Cordero overcomes censorship by emailing her blog to friends living outside Cuba, who then post them online.

a person standing in front of a car © Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images

Laverne Cox
>Area of influence: Entertainment/Activism
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 5,107,173

Laverne Cox is one of the highest-profile figures in the transgender community. She plays a transgender character on the Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black" and does much advocacy work on behalf of her community. Cox has played other transgender characters on television, appearing in 2008 on the VH1 show "I Want to Work for Diddy." She is the first transgender woman of color to appear on a reality TV show.

a person holding a microphone © Amanda Edwards / Getty Images

Kimberlé Crenshaw
>Area of influence: Activism
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 4,694

Kimberlé Crenshaw is a professor at Columbia Law School who coined the term "intersectionality" 28 years ago. Intersectionality has become a common term in the national conversation about racial justice, identity politics, and policing beyond the African-American community and has come to include LGBTQ issues.

a close up of Christiane Amanpour © Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images

Christiane Amanpour
>Area of influence: Journalism
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 1,333,220

Journalist Christiane Amanpour first gained notoriety for her reports for CNN on Iran in 1985. She received international recognition for her dispatches as a war correspondent during the Bosnian crisis in the 1990s. Amanpour has also reported from the world's hot spots such as Haiti, Rwanda, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

a man holding a sign posing for the camera © Boris Streubel / Getty Images

Tegla Loroupe
>Area of influence: Sports/activism
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 21,530

Kenya's Tegla Loroupe was propelled into the world's spotlight in 1994, when she became the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon. Other running successes followed and Loroupe became one of the world's elite female marathoners. She has used her fame to found the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation to help bring peace to communities in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan.

Kathryn Bigelow wearing a suit and tie © Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images

Kathryn Bigelow
>Area of influence: Entertainment
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 1,403,495

Kathryn Bigelow made history when she became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director for the 2008 film "The Hurt Locker." Bigelow's other notable films include "Near Dark," "Point Break," "Zero Dark Thirty," and "Detroit."

Janelle Monae standing in front of a crowd © Christopher Polk / Getty Images

Janelle Monáe
>Area of influence: Entertainment
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 4,123,476

If Janelle Monáe is on a mission to avoid being defined, she's succeeding. Monáe is a gay, African American singer, the daughter of working-class parents, who identifies Prince and the character Dorothy Gale from "The Wizard of Oz" among her influences. Among her works are the futuristic albums "The ArchAndroid" -- inspired by the Fritz Lang film "Metropolis" -- and "The Electric Lady."

a person wearing a costume © Rich Fury / Getty Images

Cardi B.
>Area of influence: Entertainment
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 25,643,937

Cardi B used her social media savvy and candidness about her life as a stripper to boost her career as rapper that has led to seven Grammy Award nominations. Her debut single "Bodak Yellow" went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2017.

a woman wearing a hat posing for the camera © Caroline McCredie / Getty Images

>Area of influence: Entertainment
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 10,660,430

Few artists can match the success of Rihanna in the 21st century. The Barbadian singer has had 14 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and 31 songs reached the top 10. She's also won nine Grammy Awards. She lists Madonna among her influences and considers herself a black Madonna.

a person posing for the camera © Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Betsy DeVos
>Area of influence: Education
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 3,951,796

Betsy DeVos is the secretary of education for President Donald Trump. She is a longtime supporter of school choice, school voucher programs, and charter schools. Her positions on education, as well as amending Obama-era guidelines on rules pertaining to sexual assault cases on college campuses, have made her a controversial figure in the Trump administration.

Rachel Maddow wearing glasses and smiling at the camera © Theo Wargo / Getty Images

Rachel Maddow
>Area of influence: Television
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 3,013,337

Ratings for Rachel Maddow's eponymous cable TV show that focuses on politics have surged, as she takes aim at Trump on a nightly basis. Though Maddow is openly gay, she does not use the program to further gay rights or other causes.

a close up of a sign © Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Sheryl Sandberg
>Area of influence: Business
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 2,533,388

Under Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook has become a money-making machine as well as a significant part of people's lives. Recently, Sandberg has had to deal with high-profile concerns regarding the company, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving the misuse of data and the related privacy concerns, and the apparent plan to discredit George Soros and other critics of Facebook.

Melinda Gates wearing a microphone © Jemal Countess / Getty Images

Melinda Gates
>Area of influence: Philanthropy
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 1,442,090

Melinda Gates is the one of the most powerful philanthropists in the world. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the world's largest private charitable organization, with a trust endowment of $40 billion. The foundation is addressing issues such as education and poverty, and Gates has focused particularly on women's rights.

Hillary Clinton wearing a white shirt © Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton
>Area of influence: Politics
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 5,277,524

Hillary Clinton was the first woman to be a major political party's candidate for president of the United States. Clinton has been a major presence in public life since she became first lady in 1993. She has served as a senator from New York and as secretary of state under Obama. When Michelle Obama was voted America's most admired woman in a Gallup poll last year, she ousted Hillary Clinton from the No. 1 spot for the first time in 17 years.

Janet Yellen wearing glasses talking on a cell phone © Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Janet Yellen
>Area of influence: Finance
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 1,061,532

As the first female head of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, Janet Yellen was one of the most powerful women in the world. Yellen projected stability and a calm demeanor as she began a series of interest-rate hikes that threatened to shake up the equity markets. Before Yellen, the Fed has been lowering rates or leaving them unchanged since the financial crisis in 2008.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing glasses and smiling at the camera © Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
>Area of influence: Law
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 8,747,217

At 85, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the oldest Supreme Court Justice and has also become a pop-culture figure. She is the subject of the movie "On the Basis of Sex" about her struggle for gender equality as a young lawyer. CNN made a documentary on her titled "RBG." Comedian Kate McKinnon does a recurring impression of her on "Saturday Night Live." As much as she is adored in liberal circles, her tenacity in the face of health and injury challenges -- including battling cancer and breaking ribs in an accident -- have won her respect across the political spectrum.

Mary Barra wearing a purple shirt © Paul Morigi / Getty Images

Mary Barra
>Area of influence: Business
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 545,111

Mary Barra was the first female head of a major automobile company. She took the reins of GM in early 2014, just as the company was dealing with a massive recall that involved defective ignition switches. Her crisis-management skills brought GM through that troubled period. Since then, Barra has deftly pulled the company out of Russia and withdrew Chevy from Europe. Under her, General Motors has shifted into ride-sharing services by investing in Lyft, and launched the electric vehicle the Chevy Bolt. For her vision and ability to handle crises, Automotive News' 2018 Industry Leader of the Year.

Ginni Rometty wearing a costume and holding a sign © Paul Morigi / Getty Images

Virginia Rometty
>Area of influence: Business
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 510,484

Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM since 2012, is credited with restoring Big Blue to its glory days. The charismatic Rometty, who joined the technology giant as a systems engineer in 1981, has stressed the importance of keeping women in the workforce. She serves on many boards advocating for women in leadership roles, including Women in Technology Council, Women's Executive Council, and Women's Leadership Council.

Serena Williams standing in front of a crowd © Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

Serena Williams
>Area of influence: Sports
>Wikipedia pageviews (2 yr.): 9,390,041

It would be pretty hard to argue against Serena Williams as the greatest women's tennis player of all time. Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles -- Wimbledon, French Open, U.S. Open, the Australian Open -- the most in the Open era. Along the way, the African American tennis star has battled gender and racial bias, and her own doubts about motherhood.


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