Inspiring Women from Modern History

The study of women's history is the belief that more traditional recordings of history have minimized or ignored the contributions of women and the effect that historical events had on women as a whole; in this respect, woman's history is often a form of historical revisionism, seeking to challenge or expand the traditional historical consensus. Here at History and the Sock Merchant we are all for a bit of challenging expansion! Here we have some women from modern history that have made their pioneering mark. Each of these women dared to be first - challenging convention and stepping outside of their expected roles to create new opportunities for themselves and others, here are some of modern history's greatest female role models.


Nadezhda Andreyevna Durova (1783 –1866), was a woman who, while disguised as a man, became a decorated soldier in the Russian cavalry during the Napoleonic wars. She was the first known female officer in the Russian military.

She fought in the major Russian engagements of the 1806-1807 Prussian campaign. During two of those battles, she saved the lives of two fellow Russian soldiers. The first was an enlisted man who fell off his horse on the battlefield and suffered a concussion. She gave him first aid under heavy fire and brought him to safety as the army retreated around them. The second was an officer, unhorsed but uninjured. Three French dragoons were closing on him. She couched her lance and scattered the enemy. Then, against regulations, she let the officer borrow her own horse to hasten his retreat, which left her more vulnerable to attack. Durova saw action again during Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. She fought in the Battle of Smolensk. During the Battle of Borodino a cannonball wounded her in the leg, yet she continued serving full duty for several days afterward until her command ordered her away to recuperate. She retired from the army in 1816 with the rank of stabs-rotmistr, the equivalent of captain.

A chance meeting introduced her to Aleksandr Pushkin some twenty years later. When he learned that she had kept a journal during her army service he encouraged her to publish it as a memoir; The Cavalry Maiden. It is a significant document of its era because few junior officers of the Napoleonic wars published their experiences, and because it is one of the earliest autobiographies in the Russian language. Durova continued to wear male clothing for the rest of her life. She died in Yelabuga and was buried with full military honors.


Mary Carpenter (1807 – 1877) was an English educational and social reformer. The daughter of a Unitarian minister, she founded a ragged school and reformatories, bringing previously unavailable educational opportunities to poor children and young offenders in Bristol.

She published articles and books on her work and her lobbying was instrumental in the passage of several educational acts in the mid-nineteenth century. She was the first woman to have a paper published by the Statistical Society of London. She addressed many conferences and meetings and became known as one of the foremost public speakers of her time. Carpenter was active in the anti-slavery movement; she also visited India, visiting schools and prisons and working to improve female education, establish reformatory schools and improve prison conditions. In later years she visited Europe and America, carrying on her campaigns of penal and educational reform.
Her reformatory school in Kingswood was active way up until 1984 and the Red Lodge Girls' Reformatory closed in 1918. Carpenter's campaigns for juvenile penal reform had a major influence on the development of a more enlightened regime for dealing with young offenders. Her writings, political activism and public addresses had a major influence on correctional education in Britain, Europe, India and America and helped bring about major reforms in the 19th and 20th century. However, many of the causes of youth crime apparently remain unaddressed in the early 21st century and failures in contemporary youth jails have been criticized by official bodies


Alice Guy-Blaché (1873 –1968) was an early French filmmaker. She was the first woman director in the motion-picture industry and is one of the first directors of fiction films.
Alice Guy-Blaché is the first female film maker and is responsible for creating one of the first narrative films in 1896.Guy’s career of 24 years of directing, writing and producing films is the longest career of any of the cinema pioneers. From 1896 to 1920, Guy directed over 1,000 films, some 350 of which survive, and 22 of which are feature-length films.

Guy was and still is the only woman to ever manage and own her own studio, The Solax Company.
Despite these accomplishments, she is rarely, if ever, mentioned among her peers in the history of cinema, and most professionals in the industry are completely unaware of her work. Few of her films survive in an easily viewable format (primarily those involving Charlie Chaplin), although preservation and recovery efforts are ongoing by the PIC Agency.


Constance Georgine Markievicz, (1868 –1927) was an Irish Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil politician, revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and socialist. In December 1918, she was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, though she did not take her seat and, along with the other Sinn Féin TDs, formed the first Dáil Éireann (Irish parliament Lower House).

In 1908, Markievicz became actively involved in nationalist politics in Ireland. She joined Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann ('Daughters of Ireland'), a revolutionary women's movement. In the same year, Markievicz played a dramatic role in the women's suffrage campaigners' tactic of opposing Winston Churchill's election to Parliament during the Manchester North West by-election, flamboyantly appearing in the constituency driving an old-fashioned carriage drawn by four white horses to promote the suffragist cause. One male heckler asked her if she could cook a dinner, to which she responded, "Yes. Can you drive a coach and four?"

Markievicz was in Holloway prison, when her colleagues assembled in Dublin at the first meeting of the First Dáil, the Parliament of the revolutionary Irish Republic. When her name was called, she was described as being "imprisoned by the foreign enemy" (fé ghlas ag Gallaibh). She was re-elected to the Second Dáil in the elections of 1921.

Markievicz served as Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922, in the Second Ministry and the Third Ministry of the Dáil. Holding cabinet rank from April to August 1919, she became both the first Irish female Cabinet Minister and at the same time, only the second female government minister in Europe. She was the only female cabinet minister in Irish history until 1979 when Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was appointed to the then junior cabinet post of Minister for the Gaeltacht for Fianna Fáil.