CATHERINE THE GREAT
Ruling Russia from 1762 until 1796, Catherine the Great was a Power Woman whose story is far from dull. Her gutsy transformation from German Princess to Russia’s Empress involved abetting her dim husband’s death (and other rivals), a questionable intimate personal life (it did not involve a horse), a thirst for empire (expanding into Europe, Asia and North America), a Turkish war and an epic peasant revolt (Pugachev’s Rebellion).
She had socially enlightened views and personally disagreed with Russia’s serfdom structure. Yet keeping her throne meant keeping the nobles happy. Following the revolt, she proclaimed an amnesty - forgiving the peasants to end the violence inflicted upon them by their lords. While Catherine did not eradicate slavery, she did reform it. She also reformed the Russian civic administration and rewrote Russian laws. As a patron of education, she built schools throughout Russia and granted greater freedom for women to pursue education. The arts thrived under her influence, including a golden age of female artists - and we have Catherine to thank for the Hermitage Museum.
In her time, she absolutely left an indelible mark on history as the most powerful woman in the world.
Portrait by Fyodor Rokotov, 1763