In Progress

10 Fearless Women Who Ruled The World Way Before Hillary

If she wins, Hillary Clinton has a strong list of women leaders to thank for paving the way.

Now that the Democratic nomination belongs to Hillary, many people are talking about the historical implication of her election. Shirley Chisholm notably paved the way as the first African-American congresswoman in 1968 who became the first female to run for presidency as a major-party candidate (D) in 1972. Twenty-eight years later, Hillary Clinton became the first female Senator from New York. She made history as the only First Lady to ever seek her claim to an elective office. There's also notable firsts such as Condoleeza Rice, Hattie Wyatt Caraway, Miriam Amanda "Ma" Ferguson, and more in the United States.

However, around the world, women have been making moves in the political arena for a while. Here are 10 fearless rulers around the world who pavedf the way, from the 20th century to now.

1. Isabel Perón

Isabel Martínez de Perón was the first female president of any country. After her husband's death in 1974, she served as the highest title in Argentina from July 1st, 1974 to March 2nd, 1976. While she was living in Spain In 2007, Argentina ordered for her arrest, saying that she was responsible for a "forced disappearance" of an activist in 1976. Spain refused to extradite her, and she continues to thrive in the country today at the age of 85.

2. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the world's first elected black female president. She's also Africa's first elected female head of state. Sirleaf, a Liberian who studied in the United States, received her Bachelor's in accounting from Wisconsin, her economics degree from Colorado, and her Master of Public Administration from Harvard University. She then returned to her home country Liberia in 1985 and became a force in finance and politics, often speaking up about corruption. She ran for a seat in the senate but was subsequently sent to prison to serve 10 years, of which she served half before moving to Washington, D.C. She tried her hand at Liberian politics again in 1997 when she returned for the third time, but was not given a light battle. In 2005, facing treason, she was able to overturn and secure the President's removal. She took over as leader of the Unity Party, which won the next election. She was inaugurated in 2006 and still holds the position today. In 2011, she, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman won the Nobel Peace Prize "for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." 

3. Benazir Bhutto

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was the first female democratically elected to lead a Muslim country. As daughter of Pakistan's Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), her revolutionary genes were strong. Unfortunately, it left many feeling threatened. Benazir took over as chairperson for her father as the head of the party in 1982, and was elected as PM of Pakistan from 1988-1990 and again, from 1993-1996. She spent an extensive amount of time in self-imposed exile due to corruption allegations that caused her to flee to London for several years. By 2007, she chose to return to her home country and planned to run in 2008's general election. Unfortunately, she was assassinated the same year during an attack at a PPP rally.

4. Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Known as the world's first female head of government, Sirimavo Bandaranaike served three times as prime minister of Sri Lanka (called Ceylon until 1972). After her husband, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was assassinated, she took over as head of his party - The Sri Lankan Freedom Party - and was elected into office in 1960. Bandaranaike helped to piece her country back together through the confusion and loss of her husband's murder. Over the course of three terms, she fought to reduce inequality and raise the standard of daily living. In her final term, the country had shifted and her daughterbecame president. She casted her last ballot just a few hours before passing away in 2000.

5. Dame Eugenia Charles

Known as the "Iron Lady of the Caribbean," she was the first woman lawyer and the first woman Prime Minister of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), and therefore the first female ruler of the Caribbean. As the granddaughter of slaves, her story is one of the most inspiring. She received her education due to the success of her father's fruit export business and banker career, earning a law degree from the London School of Economic and Political Science. She returned to Dominica in 1949 and practiced law. She became head of the Dominica Freedom Party, which she co-founded in 1968, and was elected as PM in 1980. She served as her own adviser in the fields of foreign affairs, finance, and development. She was prime minister for three terms up until 1995, and was known for fighting against corruption, limiting tax evasion, rejecting to legalize foreign casinos, and for building great relationships with leaders universally. She died as Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2005, after re-establishing her law practice. 

6. Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi served as India's third prime minister from 1966 to 1984 as the only woman to hold the office in the state. The first PM of the country was her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, who she began to follow and study after the death of her mother at the age of 19. Gandhi was elected to lead as President of India's National Congress in 1960, and after her father's death and the death of his successor, Congress appointed her to lead the country as PM. She served three consecutive terms. She was notably championed for leading the Green Revolution, which addressed food shortages among the poor, crop diversification, and new jobs. She also was praised for resolving disputes, one of which led to the creation of Bangladesh. However, she was known to have a stern hand and had many opposers. In 1984, after a stint of being imprisoned and re-instated as PM, she was assassinated by two of her bodyguards.

7. Golda Meir

The fourth prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir, was also the first female to hold the title in her country. She worked in several different governmental roles, including minister of labor and foreign minister, before she was elected as the PM in 1969. After fleeing Russia as a young child due to anti-Jewish mobs, she and her family moved to the States in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Making her way back around the world, she found herself in newly-established Israel. At 68 years old, she was ready to retire, but when the PM died, Meir was appointed Israel's leader. After commanding victory during the Yom Kippur War, she resigned in 1974 and left a new form of government for others to succeed. She died in Jerusalem in 1978 at the age of 80.

8. Margaret Thatcher


If all that you know about Margaret Thatcher is from Austin Powers, then shame! As the first woman to serve as an opposition leader in the House of Commons, she became the first female prime minister of Britain -- and was equally as popular as she was controversial. During her three terms, she cut welfare programs for the poor, privatized social housing and public transportation, and reduced trade union powers. She was also supporter of  Reagan-era, anti-Communist Cold War politics, and she oversaw events that led to the controversial Falklands War. She survived an assassination attempt in 1984, and continued on without a hitch. Eventually, she chose to step down from her position in power after mass protests against her efforts to impose a fixed tax. Thatcher officially resigned on November 22nd, 1990. She passed away in 2013 at the age of 87.

9. Liliuokalani

The first female monarch of Hawaii, Liliuokalani served as the last sovereign ruler before the country was taken over by the United States. Before she was a queen, Liliuokalani was a princess who learned to speak fluent English and received formal musical training. She was said to have produced over 160 songs and poetry throughout her lifetime. Before her reign, she devoted time to creating schools for children, and as regent, she famously closed all ports to protect her people from a smallpox outbreak, despite backlash from sugar cane growers. In 1891, her older brother the King passed away, leaving her the throne. In the 1890s, the U.S. came to annex the country and establish a new constitution. Liliuokalani stepped down in order to spare her people a bloody massacre. The Republic of Hawaii was born. Liliuokalani gave up her fight and lived out the rest of her days as a private citizen, still lovingly respected by the citizens of Hawaii. She passed away in 1917 at the age of 79.

10. Michaëlle Jean

The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean became the first woman to hold the position of Secretary General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie in Canada. Born in Haiti and refuged in Quebec, she earned several university degrees in literature, Hispanic and Italian languages, Italian studies, and more. She started her career as a journalist and broadcaster. Queen Elizabeth II appointed her to governor general in 2005. Before she was appointed to her current seat in 2010, she had became known for her dedication to those affected by domestic violence, her love for the arts, youth involvement, and her respect for the military and Aboriginal Canadians. 

You May Also Like...

Recommended by Zergnet