The Spice Girls might think that they invented Girl Power back in 1994, but the truth of the matter is that it goes back much further than that. All the way back to 69 BC at least when that most famous of Ancient Egyptians, Cleopatra, was born – and more of her later.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The intervening millennia have seen many, many examples of women rising high above the efforts of their male counterparts to break down, and through, barriers that had once seemed insurmountable. But break through them they did and here we celebrate five very notable examples.

Queen Victoria

Up until September 2015 when the current Queen of England overtook her, Queen Victoria had been the longest serving monarch having been on the throne for 63 years from 1838 until her death in 1901. Of all the monarchs she is arguably the one who has had the greatest influence on Britain and whose legacy is the strongest today.

That Victoria ever came to the throne is remarkable in itself. As the daughter of the fourth son of George III, the fact that none of the other three sons of the King had children meant that at the age of just 18 she became Queen.

At 21 she married a distant cousin, the German Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha with whom she went on to have no less than nine children including the next King, Edward VII.

Today her name lives on everywhere from the Australian state of Victoria to the Victoria and Albert Museum, not to mention the London train station. And, although she was quite straight laced, there’s no evidence to suggest that she ever really said “We are not amused”.


Born in Ancient Egypt in 69 BC, Cleopatra is one of those characters from history whose myth is strong, even though most people know very little about who she was and the vital role she played.

The common image that many have comes from films like Antony and Cleopatra which saw the all-star love match between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Then there are the tales of bathing in asses’ milk and committing suicide by administering the bite of an asp.

In actual fact, Cleopatra saw a relationship with Mark Antony as a practical rather than romantic move as it could give her more control over the Roman Empire. And, when she saw that the Romans were bound to take over her country, she took poison to escape from the humiliation.

Today, Cleopatra’s legacy lies not only in the many works of art created using her image, but throughout the entertainment industry too. In 2009, BBC produced Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer and Amazon are currently developing a drama series based on the famous Egyptian queen. Cleopatra also features within a number of games, including Cleopatra slots, which feature her profile and famously beautiful nose as a symbol on the spinning reels.

Marilyn Monroe

Born Norma Jeane Mortensen in Bakersfield, California in 1926, Marilyn Monroe was to become the biggest female film star that the world had ever seen. Her career began as a model and her stunning looks soon led to minor roles in a number of movies for Twentieth Century Fox. The studio soon recognised her star potential and by 1953 she had become one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars.

Roles in films including Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire cast her as a glamorous but dumb blonde. But when she appeared alongside Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon in Some Like it Hot, she showed what a talented comedy actress she could be.

Then, when the studio continued to cast her in the same kinds of roles, she set up her own production company – a move which led Fox to raise her salary and give her more control.

Today she remains a truly iconic figure whose image has been immortalised by everyone from Andy Warhol to Quentin Tarantino.

Florence Nightingale

Forever known as “The Lady with the Lamp”, Florence Nightingale is also recognised as being the originator of many of today’s nursing practices and procedures.

Born in 1820, her fame became widespread during the Crimean War when she not only managed and trained countless nurses to care for wounded soldiers, she also went on ward rounds herself, a fact which the media quickly publicised.

On returning to Britain she set up the world’s first secular nursing school at London’s St Thomas Hospital. She was also an active social campaigner as well as an advocate for greater hygiene procedures in order to minimise infection risks. She also wrote many books on the subject of illness prevention in simple English to make them easily understood.

Today, her legacy lives on with International Nurses’ Day being held on her birthday of 12th May and the Florence Nightingale Medal being the highest accolade that anyone in the profession can receive.

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