Martin Luther King, Jr was a Baptist minister who led the Civil Rights Movement, beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott that Rosa Parks’ arrest spurred in 1955. Despite holding a doctorate from a well-esteemed seminary, he moved his family to the slums of Montgomery, Alabama. Why? To lead the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Furthermore, to turn the boycott into a larger movement, he organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. MLK promoted nonviolence, which he learned from Gandhi’s disciples in India. His work in the Civil Rights Movement led to him receiving a Nobel prize a few years before he was assassinated.
Abraham Lincoln was born into dire poverty and was self-educated before he became a lawyer. He ran for president of the United States at a time of deep division that threatened to tear the country apart. Indeed, shortly after he was elected, Southern states began seceding from the Union. Abraham Lincoln led the country through four years of the most tumultuous time in American History. More importantly, he emancipated all of the enslaved people in the South. However, he did not initially plan to abolish slavery. John Wilkes Booth assassinated him shortly before the end of the way. Today, people remember Lincoln as one of the greatest presidents in American history.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was an abolitionist, meaning that she was part of the struggle to end the enslavement of black people in the United States. At a time when many girls did not learn to read, she received an education comparable to that of males, an opportunity that undoubtedly shaped her later literary success. In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which became a call to arms for many Northern abolitionists who sought the end of slavery. Throughout this era, she was one of the leading abolitionists and even had an audience with President Abraham Lincoln, certainly a distinction for a woman in the nineteenth century.
Princess Diana became known as the “People’s Princess” because of how much she championed human rights and humanitarian efforts across the globe, especially on behalf of children. She struggled with mental illness, especially depression, and had a tumultuous marriage to Prince Charles that ended in divorce in 1996. Bulimia was also a problem that Princess Diana struggled with. She retained the title “princess” and continued living in a royal residence but relinquished any claim to the British throne upon her divorce. When Princess Diana passed away in a car crash in 1997, the entire world mourned her passing.
Beautiful people remind us of our own humanity, and Jane Goodall was a rare person who helped define what human-ness is through her work with chimpanzees in Africa. As a child, she always dreamed of going to Africa and living among the wild animals, and she worked hard to save the money to travel there as a young woman. Despite her lack of academic training, she was appointed to study chimpanzees in Tanzania. She made many discoveries about primates and went on to study for a doctorate degree without having earned an undergraduate. Concerns about deforestation caused her to shift her focus to conservation efforts. Keep reading for more beautiful people throughout the world who did amazing things.
Industrial pollution was generally not considered a problem in the first half of the twentieth century until a beautiful person named Rachel Carson woke up the conscience of the nation through her book Silent Spring. The book brought to light the negative impacts that pollution was having on nature and humans and the widespread assumption that humans could control nature through chemicals and bombs. It led to the banning of the substance DDT, which was shown to be exceptionally harmful to nature and humans, and to people realizing that protecting nature was a moral issue.
Music is a beautiful thing that feeds our souls, and Johann Sebastian Bach was a brilliant composer who is now widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time. His musical compositions represent the best of the Baroque era, and many of them were adopted by churches of his time and are still played today. His legacy lived on through his children (he had 20, 10 of whom survived to adulthood, and several became composers), and through the other musicians, he trained. Beautiful people create beautiful things that last for centuries, and Bach is at the top of the list in this regard.
Few musical composers evoke the notoriety of Ludwig von Beethoven, whose very name is synonymous with musical greatness. His ability to translate feeling into music has led to him being thought of as the greatest composer of all time. He met Mozart as a young man and Joseph Haydn ‘discovered’ him. Both men recognized that his musical genius would set him apart for centuries. Beethoven began going deaf in adulthood, and he composed his most remarkable works while either partially or completely deaf. He never heard a note of some of these pieces. However, they have outlived him as signs that beautiful people can accomplish great things despite disabilities.
George Frederic Handel wrote one of the most famous compositions of church music, Messiah, which is still performed regularly hundreds of years after its composition. At the time, most vocal arrangements were performed in Italian or Latin, but Handel broke this norm when he composed Messiahin English. He was born in Germany but moved to England, where Handel became the director of the Royal Academy of Music. In addition to his English-language works, he composed about 45 operas in Italian, as well as works that were entirely orchestral without vocal parts. Keep reading for more beautiful people throughout the world who did amazing things.
If beautiful people push boundaries in ways that permanently transform humankind, this list would not be complete without some of the most famous inventors in history, including Alexander Graham Bell. His invention of the telephone completely revolutionized how we communicate with each other. However, the phone was only one in a long list of accomplishments. One design, created when he was 12, removed the husk from wheat more efficiently. Yet, because his mother and wife were both deaf, his interest lay primarily in devices that involved hearing. He implemented a system that used symbols in place of sounds to help deaf people communicate better.
Thomas Edison is undoubtedly the most famous inventor in American history. Sure, there is controversy over whether he genuinely invented the light bulb. Many claims that distinction rightly belongs to Nikola Tesla. However, there is no question that many other inventions attributed to Edison have permanently changed humanity. As a child, Edison did not do well in school, but he loved reading and creating his own experiments in the basement. His phonograph was the first device to record sound and then play it back, and one of his greatest ideas was the creation of movies.
Many people today have heard of Nikola Tesla through the automobile company that specializes in electric cars, and there is no question that the technology he created paved the way for many of the conveniences of modern life. When he immigrated to the United States from his native Serbia, he worked with Thomas Edison until the two unceremoniously parted ways. Tesla made many discoveries around electricity. And most people still use them today. He was not savvy as a businessman and was unable to earn a meaningful income from his accomplishments. For much of his life, he worked as a manual laborer.
Galileo, the father of modern science, was one of the greatest thinkers who ever lived. His laws of motion paved the way for Newton and the scientific revolution. He improved the telescope into something that was able to detect moons orbiting Jupiter. Plus, Galileo advocated a heliocentric universe, in which the sun, rather than the earth, was the center. His views led to conflict with the church, which at the time insisted on a geocentric universe. Notably, many astronomers in history have been Jesuits, so Galileo’s case seems to be an exception to the rule about the church and science.
As a young girl desperate for her parents’ attention, Eleanor Roosevelt would probably have never imagined herself as one of the most beautiful people in history. Many people today may only know her as the former First Lady of President Franklin D Roosevelt. Nevertheless, Eleanor accomplished many things in her own right. Following her own difficult childhood in which she could not find acceptance, she became a champion for the poor and dispossessed. In the aftermath of the conflict in Europe, Eleanor Roosevelt championed refugees. She helped craft the policies of the United Nations regarding their rights. Her contributions to human rights were so significant that she became known as the First Lady of the World.
The jury is out as to whether or not King David was a real historical figure or a legend, not unlike King Arthur. Still, his story is fascinating. He was a young shepherd who was disregarded by his brothers and father as having little significance when he was anointed by the prophet Samuel to become the next king of Israel. There was still a king, though, and David did not launch an insurrection to depose him and even fought in his army against the giant Goliath. As a king, David was full of imperfections. That included committing adultery and then ending the woman’s husband to hide it. Still, he was known for establishing ancient Israel as a unified kingdom rather than a conglomeration of conflicted tribes.
Marie Curie was a woman who did pioneering work in radiation. After a general education in her native Poland, she studied at the Sorbonne in Pari. There, she met her husband. Plus, Marie Curie rose through the ranks to become Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Science. She became the first woman ever to hold that position. Before anyone knew about the damaging effects of radiation, Marie Curie advocated its use for easing human suffering. Today, doctors still use radiation to treat cancer. She received two Nobel prizes for her work while alive. However, she will always be remembered as one of the most outstanding scientists who ever lived.
You may have never heard of Niels Bohr, but many of today’s modern conveniences would not be here for you to enjoy without his scientific work. He developed theories of atomic structure that laid the foundation for modern physics, and he won a Nobel prize for this work in 1922. In the 1930-40s, he worked on the Manhattan Project which would develop the nuclear technology. Upon seeing the devastation humanity was capable of inflicting on itself, he dedicated the rest of his life to advocating the responsible and humane use of nuclear energy. Keep reading for more beautiful people throughout the world who did amazing things.
Frederick was born into slavery in the American South and escaped to the North as a young man. There, he became known as a very well-respected orator and public intellectual. So much so that he made people question the argument that Blacks were intellectually inferior. His work on abolition helped set the stage for the freeing of enslaved people in the United States. Afterward, he worked on advancing their rights. Douglass was willing to reach across ideological lines and encouraged dialogue with slaveholders against many of the white abolitionists of his day. Plus, he firmly believed in the liberal values of the US Constitution.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and, after escaping, became the most well-known of the “conductors” of the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a clandestine network of safe houses for enslaved people escaping to freedom. Tubman helped over 300 find freedom. She became feared by slaveholders who only knew her as “Moses” and did not expect that a woman was the person freeing all of the enslaved people. She had epilepsy, which did not slow her down in her relentless pursuit to see the emancipation of all her brothers and sisters.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president to be elected to more than two terms of office. In fact, the people elected FDR four times! He led the United States through the Great Depression and implemented new social welfare policies that would protect the most vulnerable. Franklin D. Roosevelt went on to lead through the end of the 30s and into the 40s and was re-elected to a fourth term in 1944, but by then, his health was failing. He passed shortly before the end of the war. This US President accomplished all of these things from a wheelchair, having been struck with polio at the age of 39 and been crippled ever since. Keep reading for more beautiful people throughout the world who did amazing things.
You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the man revered across the world as the greatest moral teacher ever. Jesus was the one who taught that instead of taking an eye for an eye, people should love their neighbors as they love themselves and even love their enemies. He championed the poor so much that the early movement of Christians consisted almost entirely of poor people who had come to see themselves as worthy of God’s love. Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah – the Christ – sent by God to redeem humanity. Unfortunately, many Christians throughout history have advocated violence and bloodshed over his teachings of peace and love.
As with many other ancient figures, the jury is still out on whether or not Abraham was a real person. There is a tomb ascribed to him in the West Bank. However, there is no archeological or DNA evidence proving that the tomb really belongs to the historical figure spoken of in the Bible’s first book of Genesis. Still, Abraham is revered as being the father of both the Arab and Israelite people. This heritage holds the potential for healing parts of the Middle East that are broken by conflict. Abraham was also unconditionally obedient to God and left his home country in Iraq to follow him into the Promised Land.
Moses was the great lawgiver of the Hebrew Bible, what is known to Christians as the Old Testament. The laws that he gave advanced what has come to be known as prophetic religion, or religion that speaks out against power and corruption in favor of the poor and dispossessed. Yes, many aspects of the law are today considered arcane and abrogated. However, the Mosaic Law created a new social order. It doesn’t matter whether or not Moses was a real historical person. Why? Because this revolutionary way of ordering society that is attributed to him stood in sharp contradistinction to the surrounding culture of the day.
Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976 and served from 1977 until 1981 when he was succeeded by Ronald Reagan. During his time as president, he sought to move the United States away from fossil fuels. Why? Because they were causing chaos and instability in the Middle East. His efforts to create a green energy grid were unsuccessful at the time. Nevertheless, the idea of green energy has gained significant traction since his presidency. After leaving office, Jimmy Carter has been an advocate for the poor and marginalized. Plus, this former US president regularly volunteers with Habitat for Humanity by helping to build houses for those in need.
Barack Obama was the first African-American president of the United States, and he withstood tremendous opposition both in his ascent to the presidency and during his tenure in office. His single mother raised him until she remarried. His grandparents also had a hand in raising this future president. Obama graduated from Harvard Law School. Then, he served as a senator for the state of Illinois before being elected to two terms as United States president. He has used his political career to advance the causes of minority and marginalized populations and faced a lot of criticism, particularly from gun-rights activists and white supremacists.
Leonardo da Vinci’s name is synonymous with genius. The sheer beauty of his artistic creations makes him without a doubt one of the most beautiful people. He was a Renaissance man who was born in Italy and gained great fame and recognition as an artist. Many of his paintings, such as the Last Supper and Mona Lisa, are world heirlooms. He was also a sculptor, architect, engineer, scientist, and inventor who, in the 1500s, drew a prototype for a helicopter! Leonardo da Vinci believed in scientific inquiry in ways that were far ahead of his time and helped bring art and science together.
You do not have to be Catholic to appreciate the beauty of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. He believed that nature was more than God’s creation; it was part of the brotherhood to which he belonged. Francis advocated that people should treat animals with dignity. Plus, people care for creation, a lesson that belongs in the twenty-first century as much as in the Middle Ages in which he lived. He founded the Order of Franciscans, a group of monks who take a vow of poverty and spend their lives in service to the poor. Keep reading for more beautiful people throughout the world who did amazing things.
Science fiction would not be the genre that it is today without the incomparable contributions of the British scientist Michael Faraday. Among other things, Faraday coils, based on his technology, have been used by science fiction writers to activate time travel. Faraday was born into an impoverished family that could not afford to educate him, but he attended science lectures in London as often as he could. He apprenticed with a leading scientist and, as a chemist, was the first to liquify some gases. He also showed that electricity and magnetism are different forms of the same force.
Joan of Arc was one of those beautiful people born into poverty and rose up to become a national hero. She grew up in a peasant family and believed that God was calling her to lead her people against the English. As if female military heroes are not rare enough, Joan of Arc is the national heroine of France. During the conflict, she was captured by French collaborators with the English and burned at stake. Her accomplishments and the memory of her life spurred a renewal of French consciousness. People still celebrate her across France today.
During the Middle Ages, ordinary people were often not allowed to read the Bible, as the prevailing belief was that only clergy were qualified to read it. Additionally, the Bible was almost exclusively available in Latin, a language that very few people spoke. William Tyndale was one of the first people to translate the Bible into English, and he went back to the original Greek and Hebrew languages to do his translation. The church authorities were unhappy with his efforts to undermine their power, and he was executed. Some of the most beautiful people in history have met tragic ends to undermine their oppressors.
Before William Tyndale, John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English by using the Latin version, known as the Vulgate. He lived at a time when the church was the ultimate power in Europe. Moreover, he was an ardent critic of what he saw as abuses by the church authorities. Before the Protestant Reformation, he was a reformer who taught at Oxford. Wycliffe did not shy away from his critiques of the church. His ultimate rebellion was to translate the Bible into the language used by the common people in England. Why? So they could read it for themselves rather than only listening to the clergy. Keep reading for more beautiful people throughout the world who did amazing things.
Plato is possibly the most influential philosopher in all of Western thought. We know little about his early life except that he studied under Socrates, who encouraged him to think freely and to question everything around him. Plato went on to write about beauty, equality, justice, theology, political philosophy, cosmology, language, and epistemology (the study of how we can know things). He also founded the Academy, which became a model for education that led to the development of today’s schools. Additionally, he taught one of the other greatest thinkers in the history of the Western world, Aristotle.
Florence Nightingale was a social reformer who is perhaps best known today for founding the modern field of nursing. She trained nurses during England’s Crimean War. Her peers knew that she was going at night with a lamp and checking on her patients. When she returned to London, she established the nursing school for the famous St. Thomas Hospital, which laid the foundation for the professionalization of nursing. The school is now part of King’s College London. Today, the Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest achievement in the world for nurses, and new nurses regularly take the Nightingale Pledge.
Cyrus the Great was one of the greatest leaders in the history of Iran, having unified the Persian Empire and turned it into a global force. In the process, he brought much of the Middle East together under Persian rule, leading to a flourishing of Persian culture. Cyrus the Great built his capital city at Pasargadae, which Alexander the Great eventually destroyed; the ruins still stand a short distance from his tomb. He was also an early champion of religious tolerance and allowed subjects of different nationalities and faiths within his empire to practice their beliefs freely.
If you have seen Schindler’s Listor read the book, you are somewhat familiar with the beautiful person who, along with his wife, sheltered 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factory. He went undercover, possibly out of pragmatism rather than ideological loyalty. Schindler was able to rise through the ranks so that he became respected by other German leaders. He used his inside connections to be able to employ Jewish people in his factory so that they would not be sent to concentration camps. Oskar Schindler is someone for whom the end justifies the means.
George Lucas is a creative genius who has directed some of the greatest franchises in cinema history. After working with greats such as Francis Ford Coppola, he formed LucasFilm Inc, which was behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones. When he wanted to produce Star Wars, numerous studios turned him down, but he persisted until he got an offer from Twentieth Century Fox. The franchise was a hit, with a princess who works alongside a smuggler and her own estranged brother to save the universe. Lucas has won dozens of awards for his work, which has revolutionized movies.
Johannes Gutenberg invented one of the most essential devices in the history of the world: the printing press. Prior to his invention, people had to meticulously copy books by hand. As a result, books became prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest few. Reading was far from being a luxury for the poor; those not in the ruling class could scarcely even read. The printing press used letter blocks that could be replaced so that printers could mass-produce texts. Books became much cheaper, and soon mass-distributed literature led to the Renaissance and Reformation, which together pulled Europe out of the Middle Ages.
William Lloyd Garrison was a social reformer in America who advocated the abolition of slavery, suffrage for women, and justice for all. He called slavery a national sin. His contact with African Americans caused him to shift his view from resettling formerly enslaved people in Africa to giving them equal rights in America. He published a newspaper called The Liberator, through which he constantly advocated for the abolition of slavery, despite constant threats of violence. After the abolition of slavery and during the antebellum period, he continued to dedicate his efforts toward equality for all. Keep reading for more beautiful people throughout the world who did amazing things.
Galen was one of the most significant physicians of the ancient world. He did anatomical work on other primates. It led to him realizing that there are anatomical similarities in humans despite whatever maladies they may present with. He recognized that these similarities in human anatomy and biology meant that there were specific illnesses that people could be diagnosed with. These diseases were attributed to the body not functioning correctly. Galen was the medical authority throughout the Middle Ages. It means that his teachings influenced Western medicine for at least 1400 years.
During his time, Aristotle was known as “the man who knows everything.” Afterward, he became known simply as “the philosopher.” In fact, Aristotle was so well-known as the singularity of genius that a thousand years after his end, the Medieval writer Dante referred to him simply as “the master,” and his readers knew whom he was talking about. Aristotle pioneered scientific inquiry into every kind of knowledge. Furthermore, he made contributions in fields as disparate as biology, political science, agriculture, literature, metaphysics, medicine, botany, physics, mathematics, logic, ethics, and even theatre.
Gregor Mendel is known as the father of genetics because of how his research led to the discovery of the basic principles of heredity. As a monk, he spent a lot of time in the garden of the monastery doing experiments that involved cross-pollinating pea plants. He saw that the plants born from the seeds of the “parent” plants had specific, often predictable traits. The carriers of transmission that caused these traits to pass between generations of pea plants (and of every other life form) became known as genes. Today, Mendel’s name is inseparable from genetic theory. Keep reading for more beautiful people throughout the world who did amazing things.
Nelson Mandela was a social reformer who fought against the apartheid government that kept Blacks in South Africa under complete subjugation. As a young man, he took part in guerilla tactics and conflict, which could become violent. He spent decades in prison for his actions, and while there, he left his previous ideology and came to embrace nonviolence. After they released him from prison, the people elected Nelson Mandela president in the first free election that South Africa had a country. His election meant that South Africa was no longer an apartheid state. He worked to help the country heal from the wounds of racial injustice.
Desmond Tutu worked alongside Nelson Mandela for the liberation of Blacks who suffered under apartheid in South Africa. He was the leader of the South African Council of Churches, which advocated racial equality, and wrote numerous books about civil rights for all people. Desmond Tutu demanded that Blacks in South Africa stop being deported to homelands. Plus, he knew that all South Africans should receive the same education, regardless of skin tone. Tutu received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work for the reconciliation of South Africa. Following the election of Nelson Mandela, Tutu worked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would help create racial justice.