Not too long ago, I was interviewed for an article on strong female figures in literature. I was hard put to find any in contemporary realistic fiction. In our time, nearly all literary conflicts are internal and the strongest characters are shown with flaws and weaknesses so it becomes hard to say just who is strong. Is the protagonist of Room strong because she survived for seven years as a prisoner, raised a son on her own and engineered her escape? If yes, why did she later OD, then? Then there is the moral element. Daisy of the Great Gatsby may be strong in personality but not in moral conviction.
I was being interviewed regarding women in literature, so I couldn't mention real women I admired. There are many strong women, admirable women, who led fascinating lives. I'm sure you know many. A book called Cool Women from Scholastic listed a wide range of women from different fields, from scientist Marie Curie to businesswoman Madame C.J. Walker (a black woman who made a fortune selling hair straightener for black women). Here are a few others that the book missed out on.
Lillian Moller Gilbreth, psychologist who married motion study pioneer William Gilbreth. She worked side by side with him in developing more efficent systems of production and continued his work after his death. She developed the work triangle system used in modern kitchens. And she managed to do all this while raising a dozen children in the 1920s-30s.
Berthe Morisot, the only woman among the Impressionists. I first learned about her on a BBC television program that featured one of her artworks that was extensively touched up by Edouard Manet, much to her annoyance. She ended up marrying the meddling artist's brother with whom she had one daughter. She continued to paint throughout her life and became a popular artist.
Augusta Holmes was not only a rare turn of the twentieth century woman composer, she did not hail from any of the countries that produced the most famed classical composers. She was not French by birth, nor German, Italian, or Austrian. She was English-Irish, but she was born in France. She both composed and wrote lyrics for songs. She could speak four languages! In addition, she served as an army nurse. Having inherited her father's fortune, she supported her lover, with whom she had five children.
There are many more, of course. I'm sorry to say that the book mentioned few writers. I think the Bronte sisters, Louisa May Alcott, and Jane Austen were cool. What's coolest about all these women is that they not only accomplished a lot but led fascinating lives. All of them, not just Jane Austen, deserve a movie about them!