10 famous speeches by women

Powerful speeches have shaped history and continue to shape the world around us. In this blog, we share 10 famous speeches by women that you might not have heard about. Our intention here is to showcase historical role models, to celebrate the women who have helped to shape our society or are shaping it right now, and to share snippets of history told through their voices.

Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I A Woman?

Born into slavery in 1797, Isabella Baumfree, who later changed her name to Sojourner Truth, would become one of the most powerful advocates for human rights in the nineteenth century. 

At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history, “Ain’t I a Woman?” She continued to speak out for the rights of African Americans and women during and after the Civil War. 

There are two accounts of the speech delivered by Sojourner Truth. You can read both here.  

The video below is a reenactment of Sojourner Truth’s Speech of 1851 performed by Pat Theriault at Kansas State University’s 8th Diversity Summit on April 1, 2011.

“Freedom or Death,” Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst was an English political activist who organized the UK suffragette movement and helped women win the right to vote. She delivered the “Freedom or Death” speech at the Parsons Theater in Hartford, Connecticut, on November 13, 1913, while in the United States and on temporary release under the Prisoners Act 1913. 

Her contributions toward achieving women’s suffrage in Great Britain are well-recognised. In 1889, the Pankhursts founded the Women’s Franchise League, which advocated suffrage for all women—married and unmarried. In 1903, Emmeline founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a suffrage organization whose slogan was “deeds, not words.” She was a warrior in the fight for women’s rights. Her efforts contributed greatly to establishing voting equality for women and men.

“Freedom or Death” was named by Britain’s The Guardian newspaper as one of the top 10 greatest speeches of the 20th century. The speech is a brilliant exposition of the double standard that permeated the laws of her country.

The video below is a production of the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Academy of Art University.

Maya Angelo, On the Pulse of Morning

Maya Angelou was an American memoirist, popular poet, and civil rights, activist. She wrote The Pulse of Morning and read at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton on January 20, 1993. Angelou’s audio recording of the poem won the 1994 Grammy Award in the “Best Spoken Word” category.

“It is a powerful and evocative poem that echoes the themes of responsibility, reconciliation and hope amidst historical pain….On The Pulse Of Morning” is also a call to action, urging individuals and communities to confront the past and present, to reject violence and ignorance, and to embrace the possibility of reconciliation and a brighter future.” – All Poetry.

Shirley Chisholm, America has gone to sleep

Shirley Anita Chisholm was an American politician who in 1968 became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress. She delivered this speech at the Greenfield High School Auditorium, Massachusetts, USA, in 1983. 

Shirley Chisholm’s speech “America Has Gone to Sleep” was a powerful critique of social and political complacency in the United States. She called attention to the nation’s failure to address systemic inequalities and injustices. She argued that America had become complacent, ignoring the pressing issues of racial discrimination, poverty, and lack of access to quality education and healthcare. Chisholm urged citizens to wake up from this metaphorical slumber and engage actively in the democratic process to create meaningful change. Her speech emphasized the importance of civic engagement, social justice, and the need for continuous activism to ensure equality and progress for all Americans.

Severn Suzuki Speech to the UN Earth Summit in Rio (1992)

Severn Suzuki’s speech at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, often referred to as “The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes,” was a poignant and impassioned plea for environmental action and responsibility.

At just 12 years old, Suzuki spoke on behalf of the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), highlighting the urgent need to address environmental degradation and the responsibility of adults to protect the planet for future generations. She confronted world leaders with the stark realities of pollution, deforestation, and the depletion of natural resources, urging them to act decisively to preserve the environment.

Suzuki’s speech emphasized the disconnect between words and actions, challenging policymakers to prioritize sustainable development and environmental stewardship. Her message underscored the interconnectedness of global issues and the moral imperative to ensure a healthy and viable world for children everywhere.

She delivered this speech at the UN Earth Summit when she was 12 years old, talking about the concern of children for the global ecological crisis brought on by adults in their bid to modernize the world.

Angela Merkel’s Harvard Commencement Speech 2019

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s address at the 368th Harvard Commencement on May 30, 2019, was a powerful call to action centred around themes of freedom, democracy, and global cooperation. Speaking to the Harvard Alumni Association, Merkel reflected on her personal experiences growing up in East Germany under a repressive regime and the profound impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall. She emphasized the importance of tearing down both literal and metaphorical walls that divide societies and hinder progress. Merkel urged graduates to embrace diversity, uphold the values of freedom and democracy, and work collaboratively to tackle global challenges such as climate change, inequality, and political polarization. Her speech highlighted the need for ethical leadership and the courage to make difficult decisions in the pursuit of a better future for all. Merkel’s address resonated with the audience, inspiring a sense of responsibility and commitment to building a more just and sustainable world.

Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace on International Day of Peace, 2017

Jane Goodall’s speech as the UN Messenger of Peace on the International Day of Peace in 2017 was a heartfelt appeal for global harmony and environmental stewardship.

Goodall, renowned for her pioneering work with chimpanzees and lifelong dedication to conservation, used this platform to emphasize the interconnectedness of all living beings and the urgent need to protect our planet. She spoke passionately about the threats posed by environmental destruction, climate change, and loss of biodiversity, highlighting how these issues are intrinsically linked to global peace and human well-being.

Goodall urged individuals and communities to adopt sustainable practices, reduce their ecological footprints, and foster a deeper respect for nature. She also called for greater empathy and understanding among people of different cultures and backgrounds, stressing that peace begins with compassion and mutual respect. Her speech inspired a sense of shared responsibility, encouraging everyone to take meaningful action towards creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

Malala Yousafzai UNICEF Speech in New York City, July 12th 2013

Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York City on July 12, 2013, was a powerful and inspiring call for universal access to education and the rights of girls and women.

Delivered on her 16th birthday, Malala’s address marked her first public appearance since surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education in Pakistan. In her speech, Malala emphasized the transformative power of education, declaring that books and pens are the most powerful weapons against terrorism and oppression. She called on world leaders to invest in education and to ensure that every child, regardless of gender or socioeconomic status, has the opportunity to learn and thrive.

Malala’s speech was a poignant reminder of the resilience and courage required to stand up against injustice. Her words galvanized a global movement for education and women’s rights, reinforcing her message that one child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.

Hillary Clinton Women’s Rights are Human Rights Speech (1995)

Hillary Clinton’s speech, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” delivered at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on September 5, 1995, was a landmark address in the global fight for gender equality.

As the First Lady of the United States, Clinton passionately articulated the injustices faced by women worldwide, including domestic violence, lack of access to education and healthcare, and economic and political marginalization. She famously declared that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” emphasizing that the struggle for women’s rights is an integral part of the broader human rights movement.

Clinton called on governments and international organizations to take concrete actions to protect and empower women, advocating for policies that ensure equality and justice. Her speech galvanized activists and policymakers around the world, becoming a rallying cry for the advancement of women’s rights and highlighting the essential role of women in achieving global peace and development.

Angelina Jolie receives the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2013 Governors Awards

Angelina Jolie’s speech upon receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2013 Governors Awards was a heartfelt reflection on her humanitarian work and the importance of global compassion.

Jolie, an acclaimed actress and dedicated advocate for refugees and victims of conflict, used the opportunity to highlight the plight of those suffering from violence and displacement. She spoke about her inspiration, drawing from her experiences in war-torn regions and the strength she witnessed in the people she met. Jolie expressed deep gratitude to her late mother, who instilled in her the values of kindness and giving back. She emphasized that the true measure of a life is the impact one has on others, urging everyone to contribute to making the world a better place. Her speech underscored the need for empathy, action, and a commitment to humanitarian efforts, inspiring others in the audience and beyond to take meaningful steps towards helping those in need.


The speeches by women on this list have inspired millions of people around the world. Their words have touched us in a way that we could never forget. Although these speeches may seem unrelated at first glance, they all share one common theme: hope for the future.


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