Many women feel under pressure to start a family, even if they have no desire for children. We believe that motherhood should be a choice and, as these women show, not having a child certainly does not mean that you cannot make a meaningful contribution to society.
Some prominent women without children are listed below.
Head of the Neoplatonic School, where she taught philosophy and astronomy, Hypatia was instrumental in the production of Euclid’s elements as well as the invention of the hydrometer.
One of England’s most famous Queens, Elizabeth I defined an era famed for the flourishing of English drama. A strong and powerful female voice, Elizabeth frequently spoke of her independence as a woman and lack of need for a husband.
An English novelist famed for her works of romantic fiction set amongst the landed gentry, Austen is one of the most widely-read writers in English literature. Her famous works such as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park are read the world over and have been adapted into many successful film and television productions.
Best known for her novel Jane Eyre, Charlotte is the eldest, and longest lived, of three siblings whose novels have become classics of English literature.
The founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale is famous for her management of medics during the Crimean War. She established nursing schools at St Thomas’ and King’s College Hospitals and became famous in Victorian culture for her persona of ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, where she would visit wounded soldiers at night.
A leader of women’s suffrage and a fighter for world peace, Addams was one of the most prominent activists of the Progressive Era. She helped turn the attention of the United States public to the issue of women’s reproductive health, and the prominence of women as community leaders.
Famous for her imaginative children’s books including The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Potter was also a keen farmer and owned a prize-winning breed of Herdwick Sheep.
Keller was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Her success led to campaigns for women’s suffrage, labor rights and several other causes.
A central figure of the Bloomsbury Group, her most famous works include Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Orlando. Her works have since been translated into over 50 languages and distributed worldwide.
Founder of the Chanel brand, Chanel was credited with liberating women from the constraints of the corset, and helping to popularize sporting and casual styles in the first wave of the feminist era. She is the only fashion designer included in Time magazine’s list of ‘100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.’
Frida celebrated Mexico in her surrealist paintings and they have been upheld as symbols of national, indigenous and feminist rights ever since.
Leading lady of Hollywood for more than 60 years, Hepburn was able to act across genres and earned four Academy Awards for Best Actress. In 1999 she was named the greatest female star in Hollywood’s history.
Often referred to as the ‘First Lady of Civil Rights’, Parks is famous for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She became a symbol for the Civil Rights Movement, collaborating with Edgar Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr. She later received national recognition for her work, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
A unique voice, Holiday was a huge influence on jazz and pop singing, pioneering new ways of manipulating phasing and tempo. A member of the Grammy Hall of Fame and winner of the Best Historical Album four times, Holiday’s significant contribution to music has been recognized by many artists who have paid tribute to her since.
The First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz or ‘Lady Ella’, her flawless singing voice earned her many accolades, from Grammy Awards to the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was also a popular movie star and a much-loved figure in United States culture.
One of the ‘Golden Girls’, White is listed in the Guinness World Book of Records for being the longest-serving female entertainer on television. She is the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live and has numerous BAFTAs, Golden Globes and SAG awards.
A prolific tennis player and golfer, Gibson had a stream of firsts, becoming the first black athlete to cross the ‘color line’ in tennis and the first non-white to win three separate Grandslams. She is a member of the Tennis Hall of Fame and the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Possibly the best-known face of all time, Marilyn Monroe was a cultural icon, a worldwide sex-symbol and a hugely successful actor. Critics and the public alike hailed her popular films like The Seven Year Itch or Bus Stop.
Most known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, dealing with racism in Alabama, she won a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her services to literature. After professing she would never publish again, in early 2015 she announced her second novel Go Set a Watchman for release that year.
A leader of the feminist movement throughout the 1960s, Steinem later wrote a regular column for the New York Magazine and founded the Ms. Magazine.
Former US Senator (2003-09), Secretary of Labor (1989-90) and Secretary of Transportation (1983-87), and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Dole later became head of the American Red Cross and chaired the national Republican Senatorial Committee.
Recipient of an Oscar, four BAFTAs, three Golden Globes, four Emmys and two Cannes Festival awards, Mirren was later appointed a British dame — the female equivalent of the honour of knighthood — for her services to the performing arts.
A country music star who achieved her first recording contract at 13, Dolly Parton is one of a select few to receive nominations for Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Emmy Awards. Only Beyoncé for females equals her 46 Grammy nominations.
Daughter of famous actress Judy Garland, Minnelli toured the world with famous acts such as Frank Sinatra and the Pet Shop Boys. She is a great cultural and gay icon, and has won an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, two Tonys and several other awards.
Best known for her work with Fleetwood Mac but also a successful solo artist, Nicks is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has earned eight Grammys for her solo work, with a further five for Fleetwood Mac.
The first woman elected at a general election, Clark went on to be the fifth longest serving Prime Minister ever. Since then she has become Administrator of the UN Development Programme, the third highest position in the organization.
Her coverage of the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal earned her the Pulitzer Prize in 1999; she has been a regular columnist for the New York Times since 1983.
The first woman to be elected as South Korean President, she is also the first female head of state of modern Northeastern Asia. For the last two years she has been named by Forbes as the 11th most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful in East Asia.
Dubbed the Queen of All Media, Oprah is the richest African American of the 20th century, and the greatest black philanthropist in history. Some assessments have named her the most influential woman in the world. Her work has earned her an honorary degree from Harvard and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The first African American woman to hold the position of US Secretary of State, and the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor. She was instrumental in her efforts to encourage more democratic and responsible governments across the world, particularly in the Middle East.
A former Research Chemist, Merkel became leader of the Christian Democratic Union in 2000, before her election in 2005. She is the first woman to hold both positions and also the first former citizen of the German Democratic Republic to assume office.
Best known as Samantha from Sex in the City, Cattrall is also a hugely successful stage actress, playing Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra and Alexandra del Lago in Sweet Bird of Youth.
UK Prime Minister and Leader of the UK Conservative Party. She is the second-ever female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after Margaret Thatcher, and the first female British Prime Minister of the 21st century. In a speech given on her first day as PM, May emphasised the need for unity within the troubled Conservative party, and said she would bring “strong leadership” and a “positive vision” for the country’s future.
Star of the sitcom Ellen, and now host of one of the United States’ most-watched programs, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, she is also an outspoken voice for LGBT rights.
Pierson became the first woman to head the agency in 2013, having already been the agency’s highest-ranking woman ever.
The first African American to direct a major presidential campaign, for Al Gore in 2000, she is now Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee.
A former professor at Harvard Law School, and their first female Dean, Kagan assumed the position of Associate Justice in 2010.
Won the British under-18 chess championship as a schoolgirl, and went on to study PPE at Oxford University. Served as Minister of State for Pensions and Ageing Society from June 2009 until May 2010. She was then elected to the Shadow Cabinet in October 2010 and served until June 2016.
The first woman to hold the positions of Australian Labor Party Leader, Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister, following her time in office Gillard became an Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Adelaide.
Writer of the popular teen series The Princess Diaries, which was later made into a hit series of movies. She’s a New York Times Best Seller and has sold more than 25 million copies of her books worldwide.
A Conservative politician elected to the UK Parliament in 2010, McVey rose rapidly to prominence, being named a minister in 2013. Before her political career McVey was also a successful businesswoman and television presenter.
Aniston gained recognition for her role as Rachel in hit sitcom Friends. Since then she’s starred in numerous box office hits, including Marley and Me and Horrible Bosses. By 2007 she was ranked as the 11th richest woman in the entertainment industry, and she frequently earns nominations for Most Beautiful Woman in People Magazine.
Writer of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert spent 199 weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list. The book was later dramatized in 2010.
British Conservative Party politician who was appointed Secretary of State for Education in 2016. She has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Putney since 2005. In 2013, she was listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.
A representative for Arizona, Giffords was elected as a Democratic member of the House in 2007. Her focuses on health care reform and illegal immigration made her popular on both sides of the political spectrum. She famously survived a gunshot wound to the head in 2011.
First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party since 2014. She is the first woman to hold either position. In 2016, Forbes magazine ranked Sturgeon as the 50th most powerful woman in the world, and second most powerful in the United Kingdom. A resolute supporter of Scotland’s right to independence, she is also noted for campaigning for women’s rights and gender equality, and is a self-described feminist. She won the Scottish Politician of the Year Award in 2008, 2012 and 2014, and in 2004, 2008 and 2011 she also won the Donald Dewar Debater of the Year Award.
Following her debut in Lucas (1986), Ryder shot to fame for her roles in Heathers, Edward Scissorhands and Alien: Resurrection. Her performance in Age of Innocence earned her a Golden Globe Award and Oscar nomination, followed by another for her role in Little Women the following year.
Star of cult favourites The Mash, There’s Something About Mary and a host of recent comedies, Diaz is the highest-paid actress over 40 in Hollywood. She’s also critically acclaimed, earning Golden Globe nominations for her performances in Being John Malkovich and Gangs of New York, amongst others.
Best known for her work in Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, de Rossi is also a successful model and philanthropist.
An actress, producer, director, activist and businesswoman, Longoria rose to fame for her role in the popular show Desperate Housewives. Her work helping disabled children, and her support of many other charities, contributed to the Hollywood Reporter naming her Philanthropist of the Year.
Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Scottish Parliament, and Member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh Central. Before becoming a politician she had worked as a BBC journalist and a signaller in the Territorial Army. She is also a Sunday School teacher. Her hobbies include dog walking, hillwalking and kickboxing.