22 Influential Women You Probably Didn't Learn About in School

Victoria Woodhull, Althea Gibson, Hypatia
Victoria Woodhull, Althea Gibson, Hypatia / Victoria Woodhull, Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images // Althea Gibson, AFP/AFP via Getty Images // Hypatia, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
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18. Queen Nzinga Mbande

Queen Nzinga ruled over two kingdoms—Ndongo and Matamba in modern Angola—at a tumultuous time in South West African history. In the 17th century, the Portuguese empire was expanding across the continent and the Atlantic Slave Trade was growing. She spared her people from enslavement by negotiating with Portugal and becoming an ally against their shared enemies in the region.

When the country later betrayed Ndongo, the Queen and her people fled west and took over a new kingdom at Matamba. She built up Matamba's military power by offering sanctuary to formerly enslaved people and Portuguese-trained African soldiers. Throughout her reign, Nzinga successfully maintained Matamba's independence and won back part of her original kingdom from the Portuguese, making her queen of both Ndongo and Matamba at the time of her death in 1663.