The Top 20 Influential Women in the World Today
1. Oprah Winfrey
Rising from poverty to become the first African-American woman billionaire, Oprah Winfrey embodies the American dream. Through television, movies, books, and radio she speaks to women the world over. CNN and Time have called her “arguably the most influential woman in the world.” Through book recommendations, philanthropic activities, human rights awareness, and political activity, Oprah influences women around the world.
Oprah’s rise to fame and fortune started in high school, when she started working as a part-time news radio anchor. From there she moved on to local TV news, then to a morning talk show, which launched directly into The Oprah Winfrey Show. Though her show started out in the typical tabloid style, in the 90s it began to take on its own identity, including now famous book reviews, human interest stories, women’s health, gift giving, and psychological/spiritual themes. Her show has also been noted for many celebrity guests, whom she typically interviews in an intimate, friendly style.
Oprah’s career has not been without controversy, however. She has received criticism for not asking tough questions of guests she seems to like personally, and for refusing to have VP-nominee Governor Sarah Palin on her show, when she has had Senator Barack Obama on the show. She responded by saying that she didn’t want to politicize her show, and that she would welcome the opportunity to interview Sarah Palin after the election.
One of the most controversial criticisms of Oprah, however, has been in the area of spirituality. Through television, radio, and book reviews Oprah has embraced and promoted the teachings of New Thought spiritualism. Its teachings include the idea that you can achieve health, success, and happiness by visualizing what you want. This controversy has been amplified by statements she has made about the nature of truth and God, including one she made during a webinar: “God is a feeling experience and not a believing experience. If your religion is a believing experience…then that’s not truly God.”
Regardless of her criticisms, however, it is undeniable that Oprah is one of the (if not the) most influential women in the world.
2. Hillary Clinton
As First Lady of the United States, a US Senator, and a hugely popular candidate for President of the US, Hillary Clinton has been a trail blazer for women in politics. Having come closer to being nominated for President by a major party than any woman before her, Senator Clinton has encouraged women to join the political process and pursue their dreams.
For better or worse, and whether you’re her biggest fan or her staunchest critic, Hillary Clinton is probably the most recognized woman in American politics (though perhaps lately eclipsed by Sarah Palin). As her husband’s second term as President drew to a close, Hillary succeeded in being elected US Senator from the state of New York, making her the first First Lady in US history to run for (and win) an elected office.
During her second term as Senator, Hillary announced her candidacy for President. This made her not only a well-known woman politician, but the first woman in the US with a legitimate chance at winning the Oval Office. Though she failed to win the Democratic party’s nomination, she came closer than any woman had before her.
It is evident from the support she received from women across the country that her candidacy was an inspiration to women everywhere. It has even been speculated (and refuted) that the Republican party nominated a woman for the VP slot in response to Hillary’s candidacy. Love her or hate her, there’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton has been influential both in the political arena and in encouraging women to pursue elected offices.
Hillary Clinton will be Barack Obama's Secretary of State, which means she will managing with the affairs of the United States overseas, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3. Sonia Gandhi
Sonia Gandhi is the President of the Indian National Congress and leader of the United Progressive Alliance — the ruling party in the lower house of India’s Parliament. Her position in government is one of the highest offices in the world’s second most populous nation (the most populous democratic nation).
Gandhi would have been the Prime Minister of India, except that in a surprise move she turned down the position when it was offered to her, choosing instead to retain her position in the nation’s legislature. She’s no stranger to the office, however; her husband, Rajiv, served as India’s Prime Minister from 1984-1989. He was assassinated in 1991, which was determined to have been carried out by the Tamil Tigers in retaliation for his sending peace-keeping troops into Sri Lanka. He himself had gained the position after the assassination of his mother by her own Sikh bodyguards. It seems understandable, then, that Sonia Gandhi would turn down the office, perhaps believing that she might have a better chance at helping her nation from the legislature.
Although she is not India’s Prime Minister, Gandhi exerts an enormous amount of political power in the world’s most populous democracy. It was she who nominated the current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Her son, Rahul, also won his bid for Parliament. All this, despite the fact that Sonia Gandhi is not originally from India. The daughter of ethnically Indian parents, she was born and raised in Italy and educated in the UK. She emigrated to India upon marrying Rajiv Gandhi, and yet her popularity among the Indian people has propelled her to the heights of power. Had she accepted the PM position, she would have been the Hindu nation’s first Roman Catholic leader.
Sonia Gandhi’s popularity is evidence that nations can overcome prejudices of gender roles, religion, and ethnicity in leadership, when the person in that position pursues the good of that nation over their own political ambition.
4. Indra Nooyi
As the CEO of PepsiCo, the world’s 4th largest food and beverage company, Indra Nooyi has won back-to-back listings as a “World’s Most Powerful Woman”. In addition to serving as PepsiCo’s CEO, Nooyi was instrumental in the establishment of Yum! Brands, which now operates Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s, and A&W Restaurants. Yum! Brands is currently listed as a Fortune 500 company and is the world’s largest fast food corporation.
Indra Nooyi started working for PepsiCo in 1994, and became the company’s president and CFO in 2001. Five years later, she was named the company’s CEO, and has been credited with revitalizing the company. Since she started working as CFO, PepsiCo’s revenues have increased by over 70%. Impressively, under Nooyi’s leadership PepsiCo surpassed Coca-Cola in market value for the first time in history.
If it can be said of anyone, it can be said of Indra Nooyi that she has mad business skills. But not only has she improved PepsiCo’s profits margins, she has also implemented business practices that encourage the production of healthier foods and has sought to make the production of the company’s goods more eco-friendly. She has also presided over PepsiCo’s introduction into more foreign markets, which has led to job production in those countries.
Improving business, creating jobs, making healthier foods, and having less impact on the environment -– it’s all in a day’s work for one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world.
5. Christiane Amanpour
Currently working as CNN’s Chief International Consultant, Christiane Amanpour is most widely known for her up-close coverage of the Middle East, beginning with the Gulf War in 1990. She is widely recognized as one of the most influential international correspondents in the world, due partly to her willingness to report from dangerous situations, usually in war-torn areas.
Amanpour began her journalistic career with CNN, covering events in Germany that signaled the end of the Cold War. She got her “big break” during the Gulf War as one of CNN’s most recognized correspondents. She later covered the conflict in Bosnia, and has since been famous for reporting from active war zones.
Amanpour has also seen controversy, however. She has interviewed the late Yassar Arafat, as well as current President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both of whom had less-than-friendly views toward the US and its allies. The latter interview caused some to fear for her life, since as a young child she and her family had fled from Iran, her native country.
What Christiane Amanpour has contributed, however, and continues to contribute, is a bold and honest look into some of the most difficult situations in the world. She also stands as an example of the strength, courage, and character that a woman journalist can have in the most tense of situations.
6. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
Argentina’s first elected female President, Fernandez de Kirchner presides over the government of the second-largest country in South America, and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. President Kirchner serves as an example to women everywhere that they have the ability to lead a nation through hard times and political turmoil, as well as through economic growth and sensitive diplomatic relations.
Before being elected President of Argentina, Fernandez was a Senator, and then the nation’s first lady; her husband, Nestor, was elected President in 2003. As first lady, Fernandez was active in her husband’s administration, serving as an ambassador and making public speeches. Instead of running for reelection, President Kirchner supported his wife’s candidacy, and she was elected in 2007.
Fernandez’ administration, though short, has not been without controversy. She has been criticized for having a close relationship with the dictator-run government of Venezuela, and has faced protests from Argentina’s farming community over tax policies. Her government has also been accused of failing to root out corruption and for appearing to discourage independent journalism.
But President Fernandez is just getting started, and hopes persist that she will bring invigorating changes to Argentina’s economy and political climate. She certainly has the potential, and the power.
7. Michelle Bachelet
As President of Chile, Veronica Michelle Bachelet Jeria has revolutionized trade relations between nations of South America and Asia-Pacific. She enacted free trade agreements with China (the first between China and a Latin American nation), Japan, India, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei, and held talks with Australia, Vietnam, Turkey, and Malaysia. Many of these agreements were unprecidented, and have changed the course of her nation’s economic future.
President Bachelet didn’t start out in a great position to become her nation’s leader, however. As a young woman in her 20s, she and her family were imprisoned and tortured by the authorities of Chile’s totalitarian regime. Her father didn’t survive. Upon their release, she and her mother fled to Australia. From there Bachelet pursued her education in Europe in the field of medicine. Before she finished her studies, however, she was given permission to return to Chile. She did so, and learned upon her arrival that her college credits would have to be re-earned. She dug in and finished her degree, becoming a medical doctor. During this time she also began to participate in calls for democracy in her native country.
Bachelet’s political career began after democracy came to Chile in 1990; she started out working at the Ministry of Health. During this time she took up an interest in military strategy, which led to her studying at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington, D.C., and at the Chilean Army’s War Academy. She was appointed Minister of Health, and then Defense Minister, making her the first woman in a Latin American nation to hold that position. While serving as Defense Minister, Bachelet’s popularity grew, until she was elected President in 2005.
During her term as President Bachelet has succeeded in implementing numerous policies in her nation, both foreign and domestic. Her election and administration is said to have been the catalyst for cultural changes in Chile, both in terms of women’s equality and the nation’s political and economic climate in general. Her actions in the realm of free trade agreements have also revolutionized the areas of trade for an entire region of the world.
8. Yoani Sanchez
Not allowed to work openly as a journalist, Yoani Sanchez has persisted in covertly publishing unbridled observations and reports about her native Cuba via the Internet. She uses her blog, Generacion Y, to communicate with the world in a way that she ordinarily would never have been able to. She won the Ortega and Gasset Journalism Award in Spain, but was forbidden to travel to the ceremony. Through the Internet, however, Sanchez continues to practice her journalistic dream.
Though she calls her blog “an exercise in cowardice,” Generacion Y is anything but. Sanchez makes unabashed observations about life in Havana, Cuba’s capital city. One of her latest posts is about food shortages, in which she responds to tourists’ questions about typical Cuban cuisine with “I don’t remember.” She goes on to describe a common meal as rice flavored with bouillon cubes, and uses the visual image to describe the political climate in Cuba: “pre-digested news” and “canned speeches”.
Of course, she does not publish or promote her work in her native Cuba. There, she is merely a Spanish teacher for tourists. She publishes her blog from Internet cafes, hoping to stay below the radar of Cuban officials. What she has done, however, is provide an outlet for one citizen’s unedited descriptions of real life in Cuba, defying a totalitarian regime, profit-seeking media, and agenda-pushing politicians.
Generacion Y is a window into a socialist state, complete with propaganda campaigns and highly-restricted access to outside news sources. Having lived in Switzerland for 2 years because of “disillusionment and economic frustration,” Sanchez gained exposure to outside sources of news and history, which no doubt have allowed her to compare life and politics in Cuba to that of other nations. Those years also allowed her to learn the skills needed to build a blog –- a blog that she now uses to share the struggles of the people of Cuba with the rest of the world, filter-free.
9. Mary McAleese
As President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese presides over one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. Enjoying a incredibly high approval rating, she ran for re-election to the Republic of Ireland’s presidency without any opposition. Aside from seeing her nation grow economically, President McAleese has worked to improve relations between Catholics and Protestants in the once-war-torn country, including making regular visits to UK-controlled Northern Ireland.
As a child and young woman Mary McAleese was well acquainted with The Troubles in Northern Ireland –- violent conflicts between Catholics and Protestants over the political status of the country (to join the Republic of Ireland or remain part of the UK, respectively). She left Northern Ireland to pursue a career as a lawyer in the Republic, later becoming a Reid Professor at Trinity College in Dublin. Her professorship led to diplomatic opportunities, launching her into the political arena.
In 1997 McAleese was elected President of the Republic of Ireland, and won re-election in 2004 –- her approval ratings were so high that no political party wanted to spend the money to run a campaign against her. One of the high points of President McAleese’s administration has been the cooling of tempers between opposing factions on the island of Ireland. She is said to be a popular figure in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Another of her achievements has been to encourage and realize investment, growth of business, and economic improvement in the nation; Ireland currently enjoys the second highest income per capita in the European Union.
McAleese is currently the longest-serving woman president in the world.
10. Aung San Suu Kyi
Having fought courageously for human rights and democracy, Suu Kyi is the world’s only Nobel Peace Prize recipient currently imprisoned. She is the leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, and has been imprisoned by the country’s military dictatorship off-and-on since July of 1989. Advocating nonviolent resistance in the tradition of Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Suu Kyi has refused to accept freedom in exchange for banishment from her country. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Suu Kyi’s father was a general in the Burmese army, and it was he who negotiated Burma’s independence from British rule. However, he was assassinated shortly thereafter. Suu Kyi went abroad to study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, and returned to Burma in 1988. At that time, a transition of government was taking place in the country, and demonstrations in favor of democracy clashed with a military takeover. Seeing the direness of the situation, Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy in Burma (NLD), rallying citizens and making public speeches in favor of establishing a democratic government. The next year she was placed under house arrest.
In Burma’s 1990 general election, the NLD won overwhelmingly, and Suu Kyi officially had the right to assume the post of Prime Minister of Burma. However, the military leadership refused to acknowledge the election, and Suu Kyi was rearrested. In 1995 she was given permission to leave the country, on the grounds that she would never be allowed to return. She refused. Her husband and children were forbidden to enter the country to visit her. In recent years various organizations, including the UN, have attempted to negotiate Suu Kyi’s release, all to no avail; today she remains under house arrest.
Though she is not famous outside of some small circles, Aung San Suu Kyi is a living symbol of peaceful demonstration and civil disobedience in her country, as Gandhi was in India and Dr. King in the United States. What will become of her efforts, however, remains to be seen.
11. Angelina Jolie
A star of stage and screen, Angelina Jolie is perhaps most influential in her role as a UN High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador, advocating on behalf of refugees around the world. Angelina is an example of using the influence one has gained through Hollywood to draw attention to the needs of those in less-fortunate circumstances. While others may talk about world issues, Angelina puts rubber to the road. Not only does she directly impact the communities in which she works, but she inspires others to get actively involved as well.
Angelina’s humanitarian work began after seeing poverty and the effects of war in Cambodia, while filming for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. She contacted the UN to learn more about impoverished and war-torn areas, making several trips to nations in Africa and Asia to see for herself. As her involvement increased, the UN named her a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, in the hopes that she would build awareness and inspire people to take action.
In this role, Angelina has taken more steps than many other “conscious celebrities”, many of whom talk up problems in the world but decline to get involved themselves. She has taken flak from a lot of people for adopting foreign orphans, but having seen the difficult lives children in those circumstances lead, it is not difficult to imagine why she would take the opportunity to provide a more comfortable home for some of them.
Angelina has also been under a lot of scrutiny for her “unique” lifestyle, including a multitude of strange tattoos, odd (often sexual) public behavior, and her preference for maintaining estrangement from her father. Many people may not take these as examples of a great role model. However, when it comes to practicing what you preach, Angelina is one of very few famous examples.
12. Mia Farrow
An actress and activist, Mia Farrow serves as a United Nations Children’s Fund Goodwill Ambassador, advocating for children’s rights in impoverished and war-torn areas of the world. She has also been influential in raising awareness about Darfur (a region of Sudan whose citizens are facing genocide). Part of her work in this area includes focusing attention on China’s role in the conflict, which was brought to light during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Through her influence, acclaimed director Steven Spielberg withdrew from being an artistic advisor for the Games, which itself increased public awareness about the issue.
Among other causes, Mia Farrow has worked to raise awareness and support for the fight against polio, which still affects people in some areas of Africa and Asia, but which has now been nearly eradicated; and the conflict in Darfur, which has killed an estimated hundred thousand people or more. Farrow has been a proponent of divestment from Sudan -– withholding business investments and practices with that nation’s government on the grounds that it provides financial and logistic support for those conducting violent acts against civilians.
Farrow has also joined others in calling on divestment from certain Chinese corporations, on the grounds that they do a significant amount of business with Sudan without regard for their poor stance on human rights. Farrow’s efforts have enlisted wide support for raising awareness on the current situation in Darfur and in calling for divestment. She has made numerous trips to the region to see the conflict for herself and to provide exposure to the conflict.
Similar to Angelina Jolie in this respect, Mia Farrow is one of few celebrities who have used their time, energy, and resources to get involved in the causes they espouse, and her influence has been tangible.
13. Barbara Walters
When it comes to news and special reports, no other woman is better recognized than Barbara Walters, a fixture on American television doing work on The View, Today, 20/20, ABC Evening News, and more recently ABC World News Tonight. Barbara was the first woman to be named co-anchor of a network evening news program, paving the way for future female journalists.
Walters’ career began in the 60s, working as a writer and researcher for CBS and NBC. She was soon tasked with reporting on light stories, and quickly moved up to doing her own stories and interviews. She managed to work her way to the top, only to stop short of achieving equal footing when her coworker made certain demands: he would the right to ask the first question when conducting interviews, she would not be given the title of “anchor”, etc. It was not until his death in 1974 that Walters was given the title of “co-anchor”. And even then, she was the subject of animosity among some of her co-workers.
Nevertheless, Walters’ career continued to thrive, and she was even chosen to moderate one of the Presidential debates between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. She also continued to do numerous specials and memorable interviews with celebrities and world leaders.
Currently, Barbara Walters co-hosts the all-women panel of The View, which she describes as a place for women of “different generations, backgrounds, and views.” The show has enjoyed enormous success, albeit with a dose of controversy, and provides a forum for women to discuss the world from their point of view.
For all that she has been through, Barbara Walters is a true pioneer among women, breaking the glass ceiling in the world of TV journalism.
14. JK Rowling
A British author known for the Harry Potter series, which have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide and won numerous awards, JK Rowling has become one of the world’s most successful and influential novelists. Aside from her literary work, Rowling has established and contributed to charitable organizations to fight poverty and social inequality throughout the world.
Taking inspiration from real events in her own life, including her school days, the death of her mother, and struggles in her personal and professional life, JK Rowling was inspired to write the story of Harry Potter, a young boy growing up under difficult circumstances who suddenly finds himself being invited to attend a magical school. The succeeding books (7 total) have become some of the most beloved and successful (and controversial) in the world –- she is the first person in the world to become a billionaire (in US dollars) just from authoring books.
Since becoming so wealthy, Rowling has donated funds to several different charities, especially in the areas of poverty and multiple sclerosis (the disease from which her mother died). Her contributions, as well as her volunteer work, have been an example to millions of young readers.
Rowling has been criticized by many for the nature of her books, with many accusing her of promoting witchcraft among children. Rowling denied the claims, but made no statement about the role of religion or belief as she was writing her books. Since publishing the final book, however, Rowling has stated that she is a Christian, but that she didn’t want to publicize her faith until the books had all been published. Her reason for this was that she was afraid that people would be able to “guess what’s coming in the books.” Don’t worry, you won’t get any spoilers from me.
15. Meg Whitman
If you’ve ever heard of Hasbro, Playskool, Mr. Potato Head, Disney, Procter & Gamble, or eBay, you’ve been influenced by Meg Whitman, who is considered one of the most powerful corporate executives in the world. Having joined eBay as the company’s Chief Executive Officer in 1998, she saw the company grow from 30 employees to over 15,500, with revenue growing from over $4 million to over $8.64 billion. Meg Whitman is a prime example of how a woman can succeed in business.
Meg Whitman is also an example of how important entrepreneurial ingenuity and integrity are in growing a stable business, creating new jobs, and using advances in technology to establish new industries. Whitman’s keen business sense and ability to thrive in unfamiliar territory have even brought her into the political arena, with Republican presidential nominee John McCain naming her as a potential Treasury Secretary.
She may not be interested in the position, however; Ms. Whitman has hinted at running for Governor of California in 2010. She has already hired advisors to look into it. If she is elected, she would be the first woman to serve as governor of California.
Named one of the most powerful persons in the world, Meg Whitman has exerted influence over the business world, the Internet, economics, and politics. Her example is an encouragement to women everywhere who have hopes of succeeding in new areas of business.
16. Nancy Brinker
The sister of a breast cancer victim, Nancy Brinker founded and organized “Race for the Cure” and the Susan G. Komen Foundation (named for her sister), and rallied more than 1,000,000 supporters from around the world. Breast cancer mortality rates have decreased significantly as a result of her work. In 2007 she was appointed Chief of Protocol of the United States, a role in which she advises, assists, and supports the administration of the US on official matters of diplomatic procedure. She herself is a breast cancer survivor, and continues to serve on the board of the Foundation she established.
Lots of people see tragedies and think, “Something should be done about that.” Nancy Brinker went out and did it. After her sister died of breast cancer in 1982, Brinker established Susan G. Komen for the Cure in her honor. Today it is the largest breast cancer-related charity in the United States, and has affiliate organizations in 122 countries around the world –- quite an achievement for a woman who started out working for Neiman Marcus.
Her success in both business and the founding of a successful and effective charity organization brought her to the attention of the White House, and she was nominated to be the US Ambassador to Hungary in 2001. She served in that office until 2003. In 2007 she was appointed Chief of Protocol of the US, under the State Department, for which still holds the title of Ambassador. Aside from advising the administration, Ambassador Brinker is the face of the White House to diplomats visiting the US.
How many women have had the opportunity to be so influential in two entirely independent roles?
17. Lisa Randall
The first women ever tenured in the physics departments of Princeton, MIT, and Harvard, Lisa Randall is hard at work in the areas of particle physics and cosmology, part of a journey to determine the makeup of the universe. In 2004 she held the distinction of being the most cited theoretical physicist of the past five years. She continues to do ground-breaking research in particle physics and cosmology, and currently serves on the editorial boards of several theoretical physics journals.
Some of Randall’s most exciting work involves the concept of higher dimensions. 3D? How quaint. One of her more revolutionary ideas is that “we might be living in a 3-D sinkhole in a higher-dimensional universe.” In more practical terms, her research is helping to provide the key to learning why gravity isn’t as strong as current physics theories say it should be.
If you’ve ever heard of the Large Hadron Collider, which was powered up for the first time this year, you’ll be impressed to learn that some of Randall’s research is just the kind of thing that the LDC is being used to test. Not only are her theories intriguing, but they are now capable of being tried and tested. She is also working with some of NASA’s instruments to test some of her theories.
In short, Randall is a pioneer in the modern world of theoretical physics, and she’s paving the way for current and future scientists in a field that still has many more questions than answers.
18. Suze Orman
Having written 6 consecutive New York Time’s Bestsellers, and as host of her own show on CNBC, Suze Orman has encourage millions across America who are battling with their finances. She has also been the single most successful fund raiser in history for public television and is the top seller on home shopping network QVC. Her popularity and success has inspired more women to enter the financial sector.
The financial sector was not the most obvious destination for Suze Orman to take her career. In college she majored in social work, ending up working as a waitress in California. One day, a favorite customer loaned her $50,000 to help her establish her own restaurant. She tried to invest the money, but her stock broker pulled a con and took it. She decided to take matters into her own hands and enrolled in Merrill Lynch’s training program.
She was subsequently hired by the investment firm, and became so successful at the job that she was offered the position of VP of investments at Prudential. She left Prudential to start her own firm, then left active work there to pursue writing. Since then Suze has found success in books and television, both as a financial advisor and as a saleswoman.
Suze’s success in the world of finance has opened new doors for women in the financial and investment sectors. She has shown that a woman does have what it takes to make it in those tough industries, and has paved the way for women in those fields.
19. Pat Head Summitt
Coach Summit began coaching the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team in 1974, and has since become the all-time winningest coach in the history of NCAA basketball. She has also authored two books, been inducted in to the women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and is the only person to have two NCAA Division I basketball courts named in her honor. Her dedication and success in the field of women’s sports has encouraged young women everywhere to pursue their athletic dreams.
Coach Summitt has been with the Lady Vols 1974 -– a long record for any coach. She herself was an Olympic women’s basketball player, competing in the 1976 Games (the team won silver). Under her tutelage the Lady Vols have appeared in every NCAA Tournament –- ever. In 2008 the Lady Vols won their 8th consecutive national championship. Several of her players have gone on to play professional basketball in the WNBA.
Coach Summitt’s legacy is grand, though it’s not over yet. There are no signs of her retiring in the immediate future. Already the winningest coach in NCAA basketball, she continues to drive her team forward. She has also authored two books: Reach for the Summitt and Raise the Roof. The first is an autobiography laced with motivation and inspiration, while the latter is about her team.
Coach Summitt is a living legend in the world of women’s sports. She has never been one to give speeches, or make protests, or call foul, but she has arguably done more for women in sports than any woman before or after her. And she’s still out there on the court doing what she loves –- taking her team to victory.
20. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The only woman currently serving on the US Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg exercises influence over the laws that govern the United States. Like Justice O’Connor before her, Justice Ginsburg helps make the decisions of the highest court in the US, making her not only one of the most influential, but one of the most powerful women in the world. One way her influence can be shown is in the presidential debate: it has been said that whoever becomes president will be pressured to appoint a woman to the Court to replace her when she retires.
One of the most influential parts of Justice Ginsburg’s appointment to the court is in what is now called the “Ginsburg Precedent”. During her confirmation hearings, she refused to answer some questions posed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Most of the questions she refused had addressed her personal opinions on certain issues that could potentially come before the court, including abortion, civil rights, gun control, school vouchers, separation of church and state, and several other issues.
Years later, when John Roberts and Samuel Alito sat before the same committee for their own confirmation hearings, each cited the Ginsburg Precedent as justification for not answering similar questions. The concept behind the precedent is that a Supreme Court Justice should go into any case impartially, with no pre-formed opinion of how they intend to decide, so that their rulings are based on the law and the Constitution, rather than their own personal ideals.
Even without the Ginsburg Precedent affecting the future of the appointment of Supreme Court Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is influential solely on the basis of her position in the Court. Her decisions and opinions provide legal precedent for the US now and for generations to come.