Sometimes leadership happens quietly, behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s big and bold. In 2014, we lost powerful women of both kinds. Some were blazing stars of the stage and screen who won awards and set records at the box office. Others toiled away in obscurity, managing to disrupt the status quo with social reform, business innovations or new technology.
From all walks of life—media, medicine, politics, science, business, government and the arts—these women belonged to a sisterhood of courage, stamina, creativity and insight that enabled them to alter some aspect of society that needed changing.
While they may not all have inspired eulogies en masse in the Twittersphere, here are the 20 notable women who caught our attention last year. Before they left it, they did their part to make the world a better place:
1-Maya Angelou—celebrated author of the seminal memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which chronicled her life in the Jim Crow South, she went on through her work as a poet, singer, actor and professor to achieve some of highest honors in civilian and artistic life including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts and a nominations for a Pulitzer, a Tony and multiple Grammys.
2-Helen Gurley Brown—with pluck and humor this author, who gained fame with the sensational 1962 publication of Sex and the Single Girl, served for more than 30 years as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine where she frankly expounded the most intimate aspects of male-female relationships.
3-Mavis Gallant—acclaimed Canadian short-story writer who mined her own parental loss to bring to life, through humor and tragedy, characters who were less than perfect and families that were incomplete.
4-Ophelia Devore-Mitchell—model, agent, charm-school proprietor and newspaper publisher, she is widely credited with opening the world of modeling to African-Americans, including Diahann Carroll and Helen Williams, considered by some to be the first black supermodel.
5-Roshan Thomas and Zeenab Kassam—Long-time educational and social welfare advocates from Canada who volunteered with the Aga Khan Development Network in Afghanistan before being killed in Kabul in an attack by the Taliban.
6-Stephanie Kwolek—a DuPont chemist who labored in the lab for 15 years before inventing Kevlar, the bullet-proof material that is estimated to have saved the lives of 3,000 police officers since the 1970s—and that generated billions in profits for the company, to which Kowlek signed over the patent.
7-Eileen Ford—in the 1970s, with her husband, she capitalized on her knack for spotting a beautiful face to build the legendary Ford Modeling Agency; in so doing she carved out a lucrative career path for women with the right look, and ultimately amassed a list of cover girls that included Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, Grace Jones, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Elle Macpherson, among others.
8-Elaine Stritch—a laugh-out-loud icon of acerbic humor and confessional comedy, she was a globe-trotter in black tights and over-sized white shirts who confided her insecurities and afflictions to her audiences and in turn won their praise for her honesty and courage.
9-Dr. María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio—the doctor and social media activist known as the courageous “Felina” in Mexico’s raging war of citizen journalists against the Gulf and Zeta drug cartels, she was murdered in the border town of Tamaulipas; photographic evidence of the slaying was transmitted via her Twitter handle “@muit3,” which is thought to have been commandeered by those who kidnapped and killed her.
10-Alice Herz-Sommer—the oldest known Holocaust survivor who died at the age of 110 as an accomplished Czech pianist and who said it was the solos of Chopin that sustained her.
11-Charlotte Brooks—Look magazine’s first female photographer, she forged a career as a photojournalist known for the attention she brought to difficult social issues via the depth and complexity of the subjects she captured through her lens.
12-Johnnie Mae Young—professional wrestler and trainer who opened the sport for women during eight decades of squaring off in the ring and won numerous championship belts, including the Royal Rumble Bikini Contest, before being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
13-Joan Rivers—a survivor and a serial re-inventor, she broke new ground for women in comedy and entertainment by taking on topics no one else would touch in a style of humor that combined endearing self-deprecation with caustic wit.
14-Lauren Bacall—though fixed in the firmament of Hollywood’s Golden Age, she would enjoy a long and shimmering career of glamour and showbiz savvy—and along the way accumulate two Tonys, a National Book Award, an Academy Award nomination and an honorary Oscar.
15-Ruby Dee—critically acclaimed for her work both in theater and film, she won a National Medal of Arts, but it was her upbringing in a time of racial inequality that shaped her into a significant force in the civil rights movement for which she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Civil Rights Museum.
16-Adrianne Wadewitz—a scholar of 18th century British literature who enriched Wikipedia’s library with 49,000 edits and enhancements and whose productivity and influence at the online reference resource brought other, much needed women experts to the site as contributors and editors.
17-Bunny Mellon—a seasoned collector of fine art, philanthropist and gardener, she designed the White House Rose Garden for Jackie Kennedy.
18-Mary Soames—daughter of Winston Churchill who became a respected historian and enviable chronicler of the notable figures and historic events she witnessed in her youth; she was named a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Dame of the British Empire.
19-Karen DeCrow—as president of the National Organization for Women in the tumultuous 1970s, she led campaigns supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and opposing sex discrimination in education and sports–and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
20-And topping off the list, The Junior League’s very own Shirley Temple Black—child actor and entertainer who boosted the nation’s spirits during the Great Depression and forged an inter-racial, on-screen friendship with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. She later parlayed her stardom and League experience into her efforts as a philanthropist who helped diminish the stigma of breast cancer and raise research funding for multiple sclerosis—and as a civil servant who was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, spoke before the U.N. and worked in the Ford Administration.