20 Christian Women Who Shaped History

Laura Polk

Updated Mar 11, 2024
20 Christian Women Who Shaped History

It’s not often in our history books that women are highlighted. Christian women, even less so. But, there are many Christian women in our past who shaped their communities, their countries, and even the world for the better. For each of them, their faith played a major role in their outlook on the world. And their impact can still be felt today.

Here are 20 Christian women in our past who shaped their communities, their countries, and even the world for the better. Think about their lives, their legacies, and ask yourself -- what small thing might God be calling you to that could have ripple effects that change the world?

1. Florence Nightingale

1. Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale was a member of the Church of England and often prayed for God to give her a task that would define her life. During the Crimean War, she trained and organized nurses to care for wounded soldiers and became known as the founder of modern nursing.

What to learn more about Nightingale? Read Christianity Today's piece: The Faith behind the Famous Florence Nightingale.

Photo credit: ©Henry Hering/Public Domain

St Teresa of Avila portrait circa 1615

2. Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work in “bringing help to suffering humanity.” Known to minister to those that others wouldn’t even consider, she became one of the most famous missionaries of all time. Six years after her death, in 2003, she was beatified by the Catholic Church.

Crosswalk writer Ben Young writes this about Teresa's faith and widely known doubts, "Most people know Mother Teresa as an iconic figure of piety, self-sacrifice, and faith. What most people don’t know is that throughout her life, she felt plagued by the pain of doubt. She wrote: 'I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.' And in another personal letter, she struggled with accepting the love of Jesus: 'Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.'"

Even still, her doubt did not decrease her trust in God. Those who struggle with doubts too can turn to her example and know that they don't doubt alone.

Photo credit: Peter Paul Rubens/Wikimedia Commons

statue representing justice, god is just

3. Susan B. Anthony

Born into a Quaker family with a long history of anti-slave activism, Susan B. Anthony developed an early sense of fairness and justice. She dedicated her life to women’s suffrage after joining the women’s rights movements in 1852. She campaigned for the abolition of slavery, and the right for women to own their own property and keep their earnings, as well as their right to attend higher learning institutions. 

According to PBS, Anthony was deeply faithful and "refused to secularize the women's rights movement, knowing it would take both the religious and the irreligious to change society."

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/seb_ra
4. Rosa Parks

4. Rosa Parks

Known as the “Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement,” Rosa Parks was a seamstress and civil rights activist who became famous for her refusal to obey a bus driver’s demand that she give up her seat to a white male. Her arrest for civil disobedience triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which launched one of its organizers, Martin Luther King, Jr, to the forefront of history.

In her book Quiet Strength, Parks says this about how God helped her the fateful day she refused to give up her seat. "I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face. God did away with all my fear...It was time for someone to stand up--or, in my case, sit down. I refused to move."

Photo credit: ©USIA National Archives and Records Administration Records of the US Information Agency Record Group

blow up Salvation Army kettle, More Americans view Salvation Army unfavorably because of its racism discussion guide

5. Evangeline Cory Booth

After her parent’s jointly founded the Christian Mission, which later became the Salvation Army, Evangeline Cory Booth dedicated her life to the same missional mindset and led the Salvation Army for 30 years before becoming the first female General in the International Salvation Army.

Among her many writings were hymns. Perhaps the most famous was "The World for God."

The world for God! The world for God!
There's nothing else will meet the hunger of my soul...

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Tibrina Hobson/Stringer

Lottie Moon photo via Women's Missionary Union Pamphlet ND

6. Charlotte “Lottie” Moon

Charlotte “Lottie” Moon was a Southern Baptist missionary who spent nearly 40 years working and living in China as a teacher and evangelist with the Foreign Mission Board. She helped to lay the groundwork for today’s solid support of missions among Baptists in America.

Except for a few visits back to the United States, Lottie Moon ministered in China for the rest of her life. She started schools, shared the Gospel in various villages, and helped raise the conditions for missionaries. The offering that was begun by the Baptist Women's Missionary Union is still collected every year as the "Lottie Moon Christmas Offering." It is the largest single missionary offering of that denomination each year.

Photo credit: Public Domain photo/Wikimedia Commons
Joan of Arc statue

7. Joan of Arc

As a young peasant girl, Joan of Arc believed God had chosen her to lead France to victory over England. With no military training or background, she convinced the crown prince to allow her to lead a French army to take the city of Orleans, and was victorious over the English. She was eventually captured, and tried for heresy and witchcraft at the age of 19.

According to Christianity.com, "As could be expected with such a stacked trial, she was convicted. In a terrified moment she recanted with the caveat that she did so only as far as it was God's will. Quickly she regained her courage and did not waver again, even when brought to the stake. She asked that a crucifix be held before her face, and called upon the name of Jesus as long as breath remained in her. Subsequent inquiries exonerated her and the pope officially canonized her as a saint in 1920."

Photo credit: Getty Images/Flory

8. Fanny Crosby

8. Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby, though totally blind, wrote more than 9,000 hymns, many of which are among the most popular in today’s church denominations. Concerned that her name would be too prevalent in the hymnals, she was forced to use multiple pen names instead.

Publisher and hymn writer William B. Bradbury was unhappy with the quality of many of the hymns that were submitted to him for publication. He heard of Fanny's talent, and after verifying her ability, promptly hired her to write hymns for his company, telling her, "While I have a publishing house, you will always have work!"

Fanny knew she needed God's help in this new endeavor, and once described her hymn writing process this way: "It may seem a little old-fashioned, always to begin one's work with prayer, but I never undertake a hymn without first asking the good Lord to be my inspiration." And God provided inspiration from all areas of Fanny's life. While passing by a prisoner, she heard the man cry, "O Lord, don't pass me by," which quickly became the hymn "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior." When her friend Howard Doan played a melody for her and said, "See if it says anything to you," her joyful reply was, "Why, that says, 'Safe in the arms of Jesus!'" Within a half an hour, she had finished the poem. Her most famous hymn, "Blessed Assurance," is a personal testimony of her salvation. (Christianity.com)

Photo credit: W. J. Searle, Everett/Public Domain
Sojourner Truth

9. Sojourner Truth

Born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, Sojourner Truth escaped with her infant daughter and went on to become an abolitionist and women’s rights activist. She is best known for her speech on racial inequalities entitled, “Ain’t I a Woman?” which she gave at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851.

In 1843, Isabella had a life-changing experience. She sensed God calling her to adopt the name "Sojourner" and travel the country sharing the gospel and her testimony. When they heard this news, her children were horrified. How could a poor, illiterate former slave hope to survive as an itinerant speaker? Women weren't supposed to speak publicly during this era, and she was also a former slave. Sojourner reassured her family that if, as she believed, the calling was from God, then He would protect her.

Photo credit: 1870 photo/Wikimedia Commons
10. Amy Carmichael

10. Amy Carmichael

Determined to fit into the local culture of India, Amy Carmichael dressed as the Indian women she served and would even dye her skin with coffee. She founded the Dohhnavur Mission in India where she helped to save hundreds, and possibly thousands, of children out of prostitution.

Corrie Ten Boom

11. Corrie ten Boom

When the Nazis invaded Holland, Corrie ten Boom and her family began hiding Jewish people in their home in hopes of saving them from death camps. When what they were doing was discovered, she was sent to a women’s labor camp where she suffered horrific experiences at the hands of the very people she tried to protect others from. Later in life, these experiences led to a worldwide ministry through more than 60 countries where she preached about forgiveness and Christ’s love.

Photo credit: Flickr/tenboom.org
12. Harriet Beecher Stowe

12. Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe brought light to the world about the harsh conditions African Americans suffered under slavery in her book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Not only did her book change America’s outlook on slavery, it is said to have stirred the Civil War, with even President Abraham Lincoln greeting her once by saying, “So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Photo credit: Public Domain

Bible with a world map

13. Lilias Trotter

Defying all taboos and restrictions that deterred European women from entering and ministering to others in the Middle East, Lilias Trotter gave up the wealthy lifestyle she was born into to minister to Muslims in Algeria. 

According to The Lilias Trotter Center, Trotter "traveled for weeks into the desert to meet with those who did not know Jesus and shined His light each step of the way. Her theological and intellectual acuity are a challenge for us today."

"Lilias also expressed her love for God and His world through the beauty of her artwork. Her art and her spiritual life were intertwined, as she used her pencils, pens and paints to capture impressions of the people and places she visited."

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/artisteer
Glass of wine sitting on the edge of a vineyard

14. Carrie Nation

Believing that alcohol and tobacco were the root cause of much of American society’s problems, Carrie Nation became an activist to fight against them. When her words were not enough, she turned to violence and became legendary for smashing saloons with an axe. Her efforts contributed to the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/kmellis
A church building, 68 percent says the government should not get involved in the church

15. Lucy Jane Rider Meyer

Lucy Jane Rider Meyer believed that women needed a formal education in order to best serve as Christians and strove to have women recognized as leaders in the church. She is known as a trailblazer in the “deaconess” movement, which pushed to have women in leadership positions within the Methodist church. 

Photo credit: Nagesh Badu/Unsplash

Woman working;

16. Mary Kay Ash

Frustrated when she was passed over for a promotion that went to a man she had trained, Mary Kay Ash retired from the company she was working with an intended to write a book for women in business. That book eventually turned into a business plan for what is now known as Mary Kay Cosmetics. With the Golden Rule as a founding principle of her company, Mary taught other women to advance by helping others succeed and opened up new opportunities for women to be in business for themselves worldwide.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Delmaine Donson

Aimee Semple McPherson

17. Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee Semple McPherson established an evangelic ministry during a time when women were not even allowed to vote. She preached the gospel around the world using theatrical church services and radio broadcasts, drawing in thousands, and rivaling the male evangelists of her time. She preached upon a concept called the “Foursquare” and founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. 

Public domain 1921 photo from the Gerhard Sisters Studio
Outer space, Shatner Reacts to Seeing the Final Frontier

18. Jennifer Wiseman

Jennifer Wiseman was a senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope and became the director of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion for the American Association of the Advancement of Science. This organization encourages communication between scientists and religious communities throughout the world.

Photo credit: Guillermo Ferla/Unsplash

A hospital wing, Pastor Miles McPherson asks for prayers for his wife as she battles COVID-19

19. Clara Barton

While taking care of her brother, David, during a long suffering illness, Clara Barton found a new love for nursing. While visiting Europe, she worked with the International Red Cross, and upon her return to America lobbied for an American version of the same. The American Red Cross was founded in 1881, with Clara becoming the first president. 

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Sudok1
20. Flannery O’Connor

20. Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor is one of the most loved fiction writers of the 20th century. Her short stories have been described as shocking and perverse while at the same time, brilliant and deeply Christian. Now considered American classics, her writing challenged the world to rethink the way that faith and fiction collide.

Laura Polk is a writer, speaker, and textile designer residing in North Carolina with her three children. Since becoming a single mom, her passion to minister to this group has led her to encourage successful single mom living through The Christian Single Mom on Facebook. Follow her journey through her blog or get a glimpse into her quirky thoughts and inspirations for design and writing on Pinterest.

*Images courtesty of Google and Wikimedia Commons.

Originally published Wednesday, 21 September 2016.