Queen Elizabeth 1
Elizabeth I was born in England on September 7, 1533 to King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. At a young age, her mother was beheaded and Elizabeth was subsequently cast off as an illegitimate child with the third claim to the throne. After a sordid family drama of ascending and descending the throne, Elizabeth was granted the much coveted roost in 1558. Replacing her psychotic half-sister Mary (“Bloody Mary” to most), England soon flourished under Elizabeth’s rule. During her “golden” reign, QE1 extended England’s presence overseas, passed a law that all able-bodied men should work the land, and created peaceful treaties with Scotland and France. Her rule also heralded a literary and art revolution filled with the works of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson and various others.
The first female Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was a controversial head of state who died at the hands of her own bodyguards. Born into a political family as the daughter of the first Prime Minister of an independent India, Indira rose through the political ranks to the cheers of some and the chagrin of others. Despite her detractors, Indira brought about many changes that shaped the Indian nation. She nationalized the banks; oversaw the military conflict in Pakistan that led to Bangladesh being declared an independent country; introduced (unpopular) sterilization programs to control the population; and promoted agriculture in the Green Revolution, which greatly helped the food shortages in the nation. Her numerous critics charged her with corruption, even leading her to lose an election in 1977 (although she eventually returned to her role in her landslide 1980 victory). Tragically, Indira was eventually assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards after Operation Blue Star, an event in which the Indian army forced their way into the sacred Golden Temple to remove Sikh separatists. Irrespective of her fluctuating popularity, her power and prestige cannot be denied.
Catherine the Great
Born Sophie Fredericke Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst in 1729 in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland), Catherine the Great didn’t get that name for nothing. After moving to Russia in 1744, she became the wife of the Grand Duke Peter of Holstein and converted from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodox. However, the Duke didn’t prove to be too popular among the masses, so the imperial guard overthrew him and Catherine was declared Empress. After her ascension to power, Catherine worked relentlessly to overhaul Russian society. She won two important wars against the Ottoman Empire which thereby expanded Russia to the Black Sea’s shores, and instituted many changes in efforts to reunite the Russian classes. Catherine also established boarding schools, licensed publishing houses which allowed journalism to flourish. What’s more, Catherine founded various hospitals and medical colleges, which paved the way for Russian-made surgical and medical equipment.
Born on June 27, 1880, in Alabama, USA, at a mere 19 months old Helen Keller contracted a fever that left her deaf and blind. Known for throwing tantrums, her family decided to get her a tutor, Anne Sullivan, who would reshape her world forever. Together, Helen and Anne garnered a great understanding of one another, and Helen slowly learned to read and write Braille, the art of Tacoma (reading people’s lips by touching them) and even how to speak. With Anne’s help, Helen attended Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts and then the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York. By the time she died in 1968, Helen had accomplished numerous feats including being elected Vice President of the United Kingdom’s Royal Nation Institute for the Blind and helping establish the American Foundation for the Blind.
Born in 1905, while Ruth Wakefield’s name may not be one of the most well known ones in history, her invention — chocolate chip cookies — certainly is. Wakefield invented the sweet delights in the 1930s at the tourist lodge she owned with her husband (aptly named the Toll House Inn). While making a batch of cookies for the inn’s guests, Ruth ran out of baker’s chocolate for melting. In a crunch, she decided to substitute it with Nestle chocolate pieces, and when these pieces refused to melt in the oven, the chocolate chip cookie was born. Initially dubbed her “Toll House Crunch Cookies,” her recipe grew in popularity and was soon printed on the back of Nestle packs in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate. Win/win!