Author Therese Borchard highlights some of history’s most inspirational women and their great lessons
- Posted on Mar 26, 2019
They are missionaries, political activists, diarists, First Ladies, actresses, and rulers. Although the trajectories of their lives vary greatly, they all inspire us today.
These strong women—who continue to inspire others by their example— have made the world a better place with their perseverance, wisdom and compassion. Here are the six lessons I learned from each one.
Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, Mother Teresa (1910 – 1997) taught at St. Mary’s High School, in Calcutta, India, but was compelled to do something about the suffering and poverty outside the convent. In 1950 she founded The Missionaries of Charity, a religious order that continues to serve the poorest of the poor across the world today. In September 2016, she was canonized a saint by Pope Francis. Although her dedication to the poor is inspiring, it’s her persistence through years of doubt, as recorded in her private journals, that inspired me the most. Despite a painful dark night of the soul, she continued to serve God and believe in His goodness. In doing so, she models for me how to persevere through darkness and doubt.
A deaf-blind author and political activist from West Tuscumbia, Alabama, Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) provides a powerful example of a woman persevering through two major disabilities to achieve a meaningful life. “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world,” she said. Keller teaches persons battling chronic symptoms and other frustrations how to learn from pain and transform struggle into fortitude. Her contagious attitude of hope and optimism inspires me to use my suffering to become a better and wiser person, to transcend my pain into service of others.
Lead with Love
In The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank (1929 – 1945) documented her life in hiding from 1942 to 1944 during the German occupation of the Netherlands. It was translated from its original Dutch version and first published in 1952. Since then, it has been translated into over 60 languages. The book is not only a fascinating and inspiring read about surviving against all odds by a young, courageous spirit, it provides a lens into the human condition and explores the nature of compassion. Against the backdrop of World War II and the tragedy of the holocaust, Anne offers a personal narrative about the search for identity and the difficulties in her family relationships. She is a role model of integrity, strength, and hope for me—that even in the most tragic of circumstances, you can lead with love.
Facing Trials with Grace
“Do one thing every day that scares you,” wrote Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962). She had a lot to choose from, as her life was full of challenges. At a young age, Eleanor lost both of her parents and brother, and later was saddled with a slew of difficulties, including her husband’s affair and her controlling mother-in-law. As the longest serving First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, she was also one of the most public, often delivering Franklin’s speeches, holding press conferences and appearing at campaign events, especially after he was paralyzed in 1921. An outspoken force in the White House, Eleanor used all fingers of the media—radio, magazines, newspapers—to disseminate her opinions on certain issues, especially concerning civil rights and the role of women in the workplace. Her obituary in The New York Times called her "the object of almost universal respect." Eleanor inspires me to bravely tackle issues that matter to me, and to navigate through life’s trials and hardships with gracefulness and tenacity.
“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun,” Katharine Hepburn (1907 – 2003) once said. Refusing to conform to society’s expectations of women, this Connecticut native paved the way for other women to be assertive, athletic, and even wear trousers. Portraying strong-willed women in Hollywood, and living an unconventional lifestyle off the screen, Katharine’s progressive way earned her a reputation as the 20th century modern woman and a cultural icon. She inspires women, young and old, to be themselves and to push the boundaries. As a person who craves safety and security, this Academy Award-winning actress prompts me to color outside the lines and find a vitality within me that comes with taking risks.
Pursue Your Passion
A list of powerful women would be incomplete without Cleopatra (69 – 30 BC). A formidable force to be reckoned with, Cleopatra was the last active ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty. While most people think of her for her beauty, she may have been more renowned for her intellect. She spoke a dozen languages, was a medical author and a diplomat. After Cleopatra connected with Mark Antony, he relied on her for military aid during his invasions. She personally led several dozen Egyptian warships into the battle alongside his fleet, but was ultimately defeated. She is long-admired for her sass, bravery, smarts, and tenacity. This Egyptian leader motivates me to take charge of my life and pursue my passion with determination, confidence, and courage.