The Stories of Five Women who Broke Down Walls

August 26th is Women’s Equality Day. However in multiple aspects equality is still far away. For example, there is still a pay gap in Austria, with men earning 18% more than women, causing a rift, which is above the EU average. Also, issues like rape culture1, domestic violence and sexual harassment are still considered taboo.

Inequality is even more prominent internationally. Women and girls still face problems like child marriage, female genital mutilation and lack of support with facing such issues. For example, in some regions of the world only 9 out of 10 girls are aware of periods and have only sparse or no access to hygiene during their periods as Aditi Gupta explains in her TEDx talk. But the Women’s Equality Day is also a day to celebrate women who have broken down walls and smashed the glass ceiling. So here’s a list of five extraordinary women who have been trailblazers on the path to equality.


Murasaki Shikibu

This Japanese woman is considered to be the first person to write a novel. Lady Murasaki lived around the end of the 10th century, during the Heian period. She was also a poet and a lady-in-waiting. While “The Tale of Genji” has been dismissed by some as a simple romance, the psychological development of the characters shows great literary skill.


Caroline Herschel

Although some people might say she was only the assistant of her brother William, Caroline was an astronomer and professional scientist in her own right. On top of discovering several comets and nebulae, as well as her academic work, she was also a talented singer. Born in 1750, she survived typhus and lived as well as worked, far past the life expectancy of 55 at that time, until 1848. She was also the first woman in the UK who was paid to be a scientist. The Royal Astronomical Society even recognized her work with a Gold Medal.


Anne Lister

Anne was born in 1791. When she inherited the family estate and fortune, she became a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur. She broke down the walls of gender norms by dressing in what were considered to be men’s clothes at that time. Anne also defied society’s norms by being open about her relationships with women. She lived together with the wealthy heiress, Ann Walker, whom she would introduce as her wife. Nowadays she is most famous for her diaries, which contain over four million words. The parts about her relationships and feelings for other women are hidden in a highly sophisticated code of Greek and algebra, which she devised herself.


Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia is considered to be the first professional African-American and Native American sculptor whose fame and works are still known today. Her art education at Oberlin was cut short by her being accused of poisoning two of her white roommates and stealing art supplies. But she was determined. She continued teaching herself about sculpting and sought apprenticeships. Soon she was able to sell enough pieces to be able to move to Rome, where she supported herself with commissions. There she also networked with other women sculptors, who were dubbed the Marmorean Flock. Edmonia received international attention, especially for her well-renowned “Death of Cleopatra” and her realistic sculptures of Native American people.

Sylvia Rivera

While Sylvia is considered to be the person who started the Stonewall Inn Riots in 1969, her name is often omitted, even in recent films about the events. She was the first one to throw objects at the police, starting the riot, which empowered the LGBTQIA+ community and started the tradition of Pride parades around the world. As a trans woman herself, she spoke out about transphobia, as well as the exclusion of trans people’s and people’s of colour issues in the queer community. Together with her fellow activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was also a prominent part of the Stonewall Riots, she founded a homeless shelter for transgender youth.


1rape culture is “a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women

Photo credit: Cover image by Pixabay

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About Julia Fellner

Julia is a published writer of novels, blogger and digital marketer whenever she can get the cat to move off her laptop. She is obsessed with tea, baking and discovering new places. She tweets at @FellnerBooks.

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