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Who Were They?

The women listed in these pages are real, historical figures. They were chosen because they all held political power at some time in their lives. They were not merely influential wives or mothers of kings -- they ruled, whether their communities were empires, nations, religious houses, tribes, city states or, in one case, a fleet of ships.

Because the Sophia Foundation's Women Who Lead project is focused on filling the enormous gaps in biographies of women rulers for young adults, readers will understand why some names are not on the list of our first ten titles. Three queens (Elizabeth I of England, Mary Queen of Scots, and Cleopatra VII) are missing because they are already the subjects of well-researched, readable biographies. That leaves about 42 other fascinating, shocking, and inspiring women as subjects of this biography series.

These women were both good and bad as people and as rulers. But that can also be said of kings and emperors, from Ivan the Terrible to Good King Wenceslaus.

What all these women do have in common is that they had to face the distinctive problems and decisions that go with being both female and powerful. Their stories are waiting to be told because, as a 12-year-old boy said in one of our focus groups, "They've been erased from history."

There is another group of women leaders whose names are not on our list. They are the twentieth-century heads of state such as Golda Meier, Margaret Thatcher, and Indira Ghandi. To a large extent, these women's lives have already been written about in biographies for young people of various ages.  Since it is our mission to reintroduce forgotten women leaders of all nations, not to duplicate books that already exist, we have decided to omit these largely constitutional leaders, much though we applaud the historic trends that allowed them to exercise power and responsibility on an equal basis with men.

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Last modified: May 05, 2005