Women Who Made History

Women Who Made History

The role of women in shaping the course of English history has often been overlooked. Their stories need to be told.

Below we highlight the stories of some of the women who played a key part in historical events, left their mark on society and shaped our way of life – from an Anglo-Saxon abbess who ruled over a monastery of men and women to the world’s first computer programmer.

Join the discussion and learn more about the remarkable women who shaped history on Twitter @englishheritage #WomensHistoryMonth

Inspirational Women

Click on the images below to find out more about some inspiring women from history. All of them are closely linked with places looked after by English Heritage, or are commemorated in London by our blue plaques scheme.

The photographer Lee Miller is one of the pioneering women commemorated by the London blue plaques scheme
© Courtesy of the Lee Miller Archives, England

London Pioneers

The English Heritage blue plaques scheme commemorates some of the most inspirational women from London’s past. From the very first female medical professionals to the photographer who ventured into enemy territory during the Second World War, women from all walks of life have helped pave the way for female emancipation. Read about their stories and track down the blue plaques marking their former London homes.

If you know of more inspiring women from London’s past who haven’t yet been honoured by the English Heritage scheme, find out how to propose them for a plaque.

Discover London's Pioneering Women
Black and white publicity photograph of male impersonator Vesta Tilley in policeman's uniform, falling off a bike
Male impersonator Vesta Tilley in 1910
© Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Experiments in Gender: Women and Masculine Dress

In the early 20th century women such as Vita Sackville-West, Gwen Lally and Radclyffe Hall adopted masculine styles of dress that were subversive, exploratory and playful. Historian Alison Oram explores how such clothing choices might have expressed increasingly fluid ideas about gender identity and sexuality, as well as sometimes simply being about fashion or practicality.

Read More about masculine dress

More Women in History

  • A Journey into Witchcraft Beliefs

    Step into the world of early modern England as Professor Diane Purkiss describes popular and intellectual beliefs about witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries.

  • Mary Queen of Scots at Carlisle Castle

    In 1568, Mary Queen of Scots fled conflict and turmoil in Scotland for England. Find out how and why her two-month stay at Carlisle Castle began 19 years of captivity.

  • Queen Bertha

    In 597, St Augustine arrived in England to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. How important was Queen Bertha of Kent, who was already a Christian, in his mission’s success? 

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine

    Eleanor of Aquitaine was queen in turn of two great medieval European powers, France and England. Read more about her life and the very active role she played in the politics of her day.

  • Margaret Cavendish

    Discover the story of Margaret Cavendish, one of the most prolific writers of the 17th century, and how her works of philosophy and science inspired future generations of writers.

  • Queen Victoria

    Find out about Queen Victoria and how her reign of over 63 years shaped England during a period of immense political, social and cultural change which saw a great expansion of the British Empire.

  • Isabella De Fortibus

    Countess Isabella de Fortibus was one of the greatest heiresses in 13th-century England. Her life story illustrates how powerful women of noble birth could become in the Middle Ages.

  • Henrietta Howard

    Read about the remarkable life of Henrietta Howard, owner of Marble Hill House, and how she overcame personal adversity to become an extraordinary figure in Georgian court society.

  • Gwen Lally and the Battle Abbey Pageant

    Pageant master extraordinaire Gwen Lally directed a cast of thousands at the Battle Abbey historical pageant in 1932. Find out more about the pageant and the life of a 1930s pioneer. 

  • Joan of Navarre

    Read about Joan of Navarre who was imprisoned at Pevensey Castle in 1420 on the account of witchcraft and plotting to kill the king.

Who Inspires You?

We challenged a group of students to think about their future. We asked them if there were any historical women who might be role models ... Here’s what they discovered.


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