12 German women who influenced the world

Let’s take a look at 12 influential German women whose names have gone down in history. Who would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Hildegard von Bingen

1098-1179
Hildegard von Bingen (also known as Saint Hildegard) is the oldest person on our list. This influential German woman is largely considered the founder of scientific natural history in Germany. She was a Benedictine nun who was also an abbess, artist, author, composer, pharmacist, poet, preacher, mystic and theologian! It seems there is nothing that von Bingen couldn’t do! In 2012, she was named a Doctor of the Church, a rare title only given to saints who contributed heavily with their theological writings. Only three other women in history have received this title.

“Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world – everything is hidden in you.”

Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria („Sissi“)

1837-1898
Many of you may have watched or heard about a royal Austrian woman nicknamed “Sisi”. Elisabeth of Bavaria was born into a royal family in Munich, Germany, which was part of the Kingdom of Bavaria at the time. At the age of 16, she married Emperor Franz Joseph I and became the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. Her biggest achievement was helping to create the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867. She was killed during an anarchist assassination while in Geneva in 1898.

Bertha Benz

1849-1944
Although the invention of the first practical automobile is credited to Karl Benz, his wife also had an enormous impact on the industry. Bertha Benz, a German woman from Pforzheim, was Karl’s business partner. She financed the manufacturing of his first horseless carriage with her dowry. In 1888, she took her two sons and drove the Patent Motorwagen Model III 120 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim without telling her husband. This was the first time someone drove an automobile over a long distance, fixing all technological complications on the way. Bertha made history; her drive alleviated fears that people had about automobiles, bringing the Benz Patent-Motorwagen its first sales.

Rosa Luxemburg

1871-1919
Rosa Luxemburg was a Polish-born woman who became a naturalized German citizen at the age of 28. Luxemburg was a Marxist theorist, a philosopher, a revolutionary socialist and an anti-war activist. In 1915, she co-founded the Spartacus League, which eventually became the Communist Party of Germany. She was jailed during the First World War for distributing anti-war flyers. She was murdered in early 1919.

“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”

Amalie Emmy Noether

1882-1935
Amalie Emmy Noether, born in Bavaria, was a German mathematician best known for her contributions to algebra and theoretical physicals. Many people (including Albert Einstein) called her the most important woman in the history of mathematics.

“My (algebraic) methods are really methods of working and thinking; this is why they have crept in everywhere anonymously.”

Marlene Dietrich

1901-1992
Marlene Dietrich was a German-American actress and singer who starred in many Hollywood films, including The Blue Angel (1930), Morocco (1930), Shanghai Express (1832) and Desire (1936). She quickly became the highest-paid actress of her era. But she also had a good heart: during the war, Dietrich provided financial support to German and French exiles and advocated their American citizenship. Between the early 1950s and the 1970s, Dietrich worked as a cabaret artist, performing in large theaters around the world.

„I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.“

Hannah Arendt

1906-1975
Hannah Arendt was a German Jew who escaped to the United States in 1941 and became an American citizen. She is an influential political philosopher known for her many theories on topics such as totalitarianism and epistemology. Some of her most influential works include The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition and Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

„The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.“

Sophie Scholl

1921-1943
Sophie Scholl was a German political activist and a core member of the White Rose, a non-violent resistance group that fought against the Nazi regime. The group consisted of a number of university students and acted primarily in Munich. After being caught distributing anti-war flyers with her brother at the University of Munich, Scholl was executed by the Nazis. Her legacy lives on to this day and multiple movies have been made to document the uprising of Scholl and the White Rose.

„Stand up for what you believe in, even if you are standing alone.“

Anne Frank

1929-1945
Anne Frank, born in Frankfurt, Germany, was a Jewish Holocaust victim who kept a diary while in hiding in the Netherlands. Her diary become one of the most important books in history and has been translated into 60 languages. In 1999, Frank was labeled as one of “the most important people of the century” by TIME Magazine. Many organizations, foundations and memorials have been set up in her name.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Angela Merkel

1954-present
The most recognizable name on our list is that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She grew up in former East Germany and became a physicist, but her life soon took a different direction. After German reunification, she was elected into the Bundestag. She was eventually elected as the leader of her party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. She has served as Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and was reelected for another term this past year.

“Whoever decides to dedicate their life to politics knows that earning money isn’t the top priority.”

Cornelia Funke

1958-present
Cornelia Funke, a German author from Dorsten, is best known for her Inkheart trilogy – a fantasy and adventure book series that has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.

“I always wanted to ride a dragon myself, so I decided to do this for a year in my imagination.”

Steffi Graf

1969 – present
Steffi Graf is a former professional tennis player from Mannheim who won the third-most single titles in the women’s Grand Slam tournaments of all time. She was ranked as the world no. 1 player by the Women’s Tennis Association from August 1987 to March 1991.

“You can’t measure success if you have never failed. My father taught me that if you really do want to reach your goals, you can’t spend any time worrying about whether you’re going to win or lose. Focus only on getting better.”

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

11 thoughts on “12 German women who influenced the world”

  1. This is a wonderful piece, greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, you’ve mistaken Klara Zetkin with Rosa Luxemburg—the photo is the former.

  2. For Luxemburg to be a communist totalitarian in 1919 Berlin may be influential, but nothing to celebrate women today.

    1. Dear Sir: She said “There is no democracy without socialism and no socialism without democracy.” This is not totalitarianism.

  3. I would add Dr Ambassador Renate Jakupca: A Siebenbürger Sachsen Immigrant’s Peace Trail to Cleveland, Ohio and into the Worlds Peace Makers Hall of Fame.

    Renate Jakupca of the Siebenbuergen Saxons along with her husband David Jakupca in 1987 created a revolutionary method for making a sustainable culture of Peace for All the Worlds Children and establishing a whole new scientific field in Environmental Arts and Culture. Her pioneering work on Peace through the ‘Theory of Iceality on Environmental Arts’ has had a significant impact on future peace endeavors and research. A risk-taker, Ambassador Renate has always done things her way: Committed to preserving our planet, she has dedicated her life to finding new and intelligent solutions to address the environmental challenge. Passionate and determined, she is convinced that education for all is the key to a better peaceful world and, through her work at the International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA), she hopes to contribute to promoting Sustainable Global Peace as a Science for a captivating and fun career path for all the Worlds Children.

    Full Story Link http://wp.me/p42V70-1G

  4. These are fascinating women. I admire them all, especially Hildegard von Bingen, contemporary of another one of my favorites (not German), Eleanor of Acquitaine. Fiona Maddocks’ Hildegard of Bingen biography is a book hard to put down.

    1. Dear Editors and Directors of The WEEK IN GERMANY,

      On Oct. 12, I submitted the following comment on the article “12 German women who influenced the world.”
      “These are fascinating women. I admire them all, especially Hildegard von Bingen, contemporary of another one of my favorites (not German), Eleanor of Acquitaine. Fiona Maddocks’ Hildegard of Bingen biography is a book hard to put down.”

      It has been ‘awaiting moderation’ ever since. If the 2 spelling mistakes I made are at issue, which should read ‘Aquitaine and Maddocks’s’, please go ahead and correct them, however what else could be the reason to delay the final approval for that long?
      I would appreciate your reply.
      I am a long-time subscriber to WEEK IN GERMANY. G.B.

      1. Dear Gudula,

        Thank you for your comment and our apologies for taking so long! We get a lot of spam in our comment section (more spam than real comments), which is why we turned on the approval settings. We’re glad you enjoyed the article and thank you for subscribing to TWIG! Have a wonderful day!

        -Web team, German Embassy

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