There’s no shortage of trailblazing, boundary-breaking women who never got their due. But to truly understand our history—from art and music to science and politics—we have to make sure we recognize and appreciate the tremendous impact these lesser-known figures have had on the world. To that end, here are 22 influential women you probably didn't learn about in school.
1. Amelia Edwards
Mountaineer, explorer, and cultural preservationist Amelia Blanford Edwards is known as the “Godmother of Egyptology.” In her early life, she found some success as a popular novelist; her spooky ghost story “The Phantom Coach” is still widely read in anthologies. But Edwards really made her mark as an adventurer, completing ascents in Italy’s Dolomites and writing about her alpine activities in her bestselling travelogue Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys (1873).
With her romantic companion Lucy Renshaw [PDF], Edwards then embarked on a cruise of roughly 1000 miles up the Nile to Wadi Halfa, becoming spellbound by the monumental sculptures and necropoli of ancient Egypt. But she was dismayed to see how looters and unethical collectors were destroying cultural heritage.
Back in England, she devoted the rest of her life to studying Egypt. She founded the Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF) with British Museum curator Reginald Stuart Poole, wrote extensively on Egyptian art and history, and endowed Britain’s first professorship in Egyptology. The first person to hold this position was Flinders Petrie, whose contributions to archeology—including the creation of sequence dating—helped revolutionize the field (though he's also the subject of controversy in the science community today, thanks to his embrace of eugenics). Despite doubts from some EEF committee members, Edwards also appointed Petrie to a position heading up an excavation of the Nile Delta region, including the Wadi Tumilat and San el-Hagar, starting in 1884.
Upon her death in 1892, Edwards's archaeological collection was given to the University College London, where it would form the core of the Petrie Museum.