Marie Curie named the most 'world-changing' woman in history in new poll

Rosa Parks, Marie Curie and Princess Diana are on the list. Credit: AP

Marie Curie has been voted the woman who has made the most significant impact on world history.

In a poll of the 100 women who changed the world, the pioneering scientist came out on top, above the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Emmeline Pankhurst and the Virgin Mary.

The Polish-born French scientist, who became the first person to win two Nobel prizes – one for physics and one for chemistry – carried out important research into radioactivity, a term that she coined.

Her discoveries launched effective cures for cancer and helped in the development of X-rays in surgery.

Curie’s nominee, Patricia Fara, president of the British Society for the History of Science, said: “She (Curie) was the first woman to win a Nobel prize in physics, first female professor at the University of Paris, and the first person – note the use of person there, not woman – to win a second Nobel prize.

“The odds were always stacked against her. In Poland her patriotic family suffered under a Russian regime. In France she was regarded with suspicion as a foreigner – and of course, wherever she went, she was discriminated against as a woman.”

In second place was Rosa Parks, an activist in the civil rights movement who protested against racial segregation in America, with leader of the British suffragette movement Pankhurst third.

Civil rights activist Rosa Parks was named the second most significant woman in history. Credit: AP

The top 100 women were chosen by BBC History Magazine readers for their achievements in areas including politics, science, sport, technology and literature.

The UK’s first female Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, is in sixth place, while other names in the top 20 include writers Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart and queens Victoria and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Margaret Thatcher appears at number six in the poll. Credit: PA

BBC History Magazine deputy editor Charlotte Hodgman said: “The poll has shone a light on some truly extraordinary women from history, many of whose achievements and talents were overlooked in their own lifetimes.

“It is fitting that, in a year that has seen the 100th anniversary of the parliamentary Act that gave the vote to many British women, suffrage campaigners Emmeline Pankhurst and Josephine Butler have been voted into the top 20.

“Whilst it is unsurprising to see queens such as Victoria and Eleanor of Aquitaine place high, it is refreshing to see some more unfamiliar names make the top 20, such as 19th-century philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts."

Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement, was third in the poll. Credit: AP

100 women who changed the world – top 20

  • Marie Curie

  • Rosa Parks

  • Emmeline Pankhurst

  • Ada Lovelace

  • Rosalind Franklin

  • Margaret Thatcher

  • Angela Burdett-Coutts

  • Mary Wollstonecraft

  • Florence Nightingale

  • Marie Stopes

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine

  • The Virgin Mary

  • Jane Austen

  • Boudicca

  • Diana, Princess of Wales

  • Amelia Earhart

  • Queen Victoria

  • Josephine Butler

  • Mary Seacole

  • Mother Teresa