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The 52 women who have won the Nobel Prize

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BRITTA PEDERSEN/dpa/AFP via Getty Images

The 52 women who have won the Nobel Prize

As of the 2019 Nobel, only 52 of the more than 900 people who have won the Nobel Prize have been women. Despite strong contenders like Vera Rubin who discovered the existence of dark matter, there have only been three women who have won the Nobel Prize for physics

Nobel committees have distinct methods for deciding winners. The Nobel Peace Prize, for example, is awarded by a five-person committee and anyone who meets the criteria can be nominated. For literature, however, nominations can only be made by qualified people. Despite the different nominating and selection processes, two rules apply to all awards: No person can nominate herself/himself and the names of the nominees cannot be revealed until 50 years after winners are announced.

To highlight the 52 women who have won the honor in the past, Stacker turned to data from the Nobel Prize website. These women have made outstanding contributions to the world of medicine, science, art, and peace-keeping. Just reaching this height of fame and recognition meant facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. Many women on this list had to contend with extreme sexism in male-dominated professions, but some Nobel Prize winners also had to overcome physical violence. All their stories are unique and equally inspiring.

Read on to learn about these women’s exciting contributions to society, from helpful advancements in the HIV epidemic to the abolition of landmines.

You may also like: 50 most peaceful countries in the world

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Wikimedia Commons

Marie Curie (born Skłodowska)

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physics
- Year: 1903

Marie Curie, who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, coined the term “radioactivity.” In 1903, she and her husband won the Nobel Prize for Physics for their study into spontaneous radiation. They share the award with Antoine Henri Becquerel for his discovery of radioactivity.

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Wikimedia Commons

Baroness Bertha Sophie Felicita von Suttner (born Countess Kinsky von Chinic und Tettau)

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1905

Referred to as the “generalissimo of the peace movement,” this Austrian woman penned an anti-war novel called “Lay Down Your Arms” that won her the Nobel Peace Prize. It was one of the most influential books during the century with a strong anti-militaristic message.

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Aron Jonason // Wikimedia Commons

Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 1909

Born in Sweden, Lagerlöf won the Nobel Prize in Literature. She’s often credited for having a vivid imagination, and she has used stories from her hometown in Värmland County as inspiration. “Gösta Berling's Saga” was the name of her first novel.

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Tekniska museet // Flickr

Marie Curie (born Skłodowska)

- Award: Nobel Prize in Chemistry
- Year: 1911

Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year for her further investigation of radium and polonium. She was the first person to receive two Nobel Prizes, and she promoted the use of radium in the First World War to treat soldiers who were injured.

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Fch Uniss // Wikimedia Commons

Grazia Deledda

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 1926

This Italian writer who lived in Rome for part of her life earned the Nobel Prize for Literature for stories about life on her native island of Sardinia. She also developed some of her characters based on people she knew in real life.

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National Library of Norway // Wikimedia Commons

Sigrid Undset

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 1928

The Second World War and the Nazi invasion forced this writer to flee Norway, but she returned when the war was over. She was born in Denmark and wrote a trilogy about life in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages, called “Kristin Lavransdatter.”

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Bain News Service // Wikimedia Commons

Jane Addams

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1931

Born in Cedarville, Ill., Jane Addams was a social worker and a feminist. She stood at the forefront of the settlement house movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Smithsonian Institution // Wikimedai Commons

Irène Joliot-Curie

- Award: Nobel Prize in Chemistry
- Year: 1935

Born in Paris, this French scientist was the daughter of Nobel winners Marie Curie and Pierre Curie. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel for discovering artificial radioactivity. Her research was an important step in the discovery of uranium fission.

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Arnold Genthe // Wikimedia Commons

Pearl Buck

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 1938

Pearl Buck, who was born in West Virginia, began writing in the ‘20s. She was the daughter of missionaries and spent most of her life before 1934 in Zhenjiang, China. Her novel “The Good Earth” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and was a best-seller.

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Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile // Wikimedia Commons

Gabriela Mistral

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 1945

Mistral is a pseudonym for Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga. She was born in Vicuña, Chile, and began to write poetry after her lover, a railway employee, committed suicide. She taught at various universities around the U.S.

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George W. Harris/Martha Ewing // Wikimedia Commons

Emily Greene Balch

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1946

Balch was 79 when she received the Nobel. An American economist and sociologist born in Boston, she tackled difficult social issues, from poverty to immigration, that were widespread at the time.

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Smithsonian Institution // Flickr

Gerty Theresa Cori (born Radnitz)

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 1947

Born in Prague, Gerty Theresa Cori was a Jewish Austrian American biochemist. She was married to Carl Cori, and the two studied how the body utilizes energy. Both are credited for development of the Cori cycle, an essential part of metabolism.

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ENERGY.GOV // Wikimedia Commons

Maria Goeppert-Mayer

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physics
- Year: 1963

Goeppert-Mayer was born in Germany. After she married, she migrated to America, where she worked on an American atom bomb project during World War II. Her work uncovered important discoveries about nuclear structure, and Goeppert-Mayer is one of only two women to win the Nobel Prize in physics.

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Keystone // Getty Images

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin

- Award: Nobel Prize in Chemistry
- Year: 1964

Hodgkin was a British chemist whose interest in research began when, as a child, she received a chemistry book containing experiments with crystals. She studied at Oxford University and developed protein crystallography, which advanced the development of X-rays. This earned her the Nobel Prize.

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Central Press // Getty Images

Nelly Sachs

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 1966

Nelly Sachs was a writer whose experiences during World War II resonated with other Jewish people. She wrote plays and poetry collections, such as “Zeichen im Sand,” and did not shy away from difficult subjects, such as the horrors of life in concentration camps.

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Nashirul Islam // Wikimedia Commons

Mairead Corrigan

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1976

A peace activist who began working in the Northern Ireland peace movement and later co-founded the Community for Peace People, Mairead Corrigan was born in Belfast. Her sister, who was the Northern Irish secretary, lost three of her children in a shooting incident in Belfast. She and a witness to the crime founded a peace organization to help put the conflict to rest.

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Tsui // Wikimedia Commons

Betty Williams

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1976

Betty Williams was the witness to the killing of Mairead Corrigan’s sister’s three children, and she jointly shares the Nobel Peace Prize with Corrigan, as the co-founder of the Community for Peace Peoplet. An advocate of religious tolerance, Williams is the daughter of a Protestant father and Catholic mother.

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Keystone // Wikimedia Commons

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 1977

Rosalyn Yalow, a lifelong New Yorker, was a nuclear physicist. She shares the Nobel for the development of the radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique with physician Solomon Berson. The duo proved that type 2 diabetes is caused by the body's inefficient use—not a lack—of insulin. RIA can be used to measure hormones in the blood.

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Philip K // Flickr

Mother Teresa

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1979

Mother Teresa was only 12 when she felt called to God and became a missionary. She joined the convent, then left to work among the slums of Calcutta. Wanting to help, she created the Missionaries of Charity, and by the same year she won her Nobel, there were 158 Missionaries of Charity foundations.

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STF/AFP // Getty Images

Alva Myrdal

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1982

This Swedish diplomat shared the Nobel with Alfonso Garcia Robles, a Mexican diplomat who, like Myrdal, advocated nuclear disarmament. Myrdal worked for the United Nations and for UNESCO.

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Smithsonian Institution // Wikimedia Commons

Barbara McClintock

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 1983

By studying the hereditary of corn, such as the different colors of kernels, McClintock proved that genetic elements can sometimes swap into a new position on a chromosome. McClintock, who was from Connecticut, studied at Cornell’s College of Agriculture.

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audrey_sel // Wikimedia Commons

Rita Levi-Montalcini

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 1986

Born in Italy, Rita Levi-Montalcini received the Nobel for her work in neurobiology. She shares the honor jointly with her colleague Stanley Cohen for the discovery of “nerve growth factor” that has shed new light on tumors, wound healing, and other medical problems.

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Wikimedia Commons

Gertrude B. Elion

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 1988

Gertrude Elion’s discoveries of important principles for drug treatment garnered the Nobel for her. Elion had watched her grandfather die of cancer, and she vowed to fight the disease throughout her life. Elion, together with George Hitchings—who shares the award with her—created a system for drug production that relies heavily on biochemistry.

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Vogler // Wikimedia Commons

Nadine Gordimer

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 1991

Nadine Gordimer, a South African child of Jewish immigrants, was a writer who was only 15 when her first literary work was published. But it was her novel, “The Conservationist,” for which she was well known. A good portion of her work discussed apartheid.

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Claude TRUONG-NGOC // Wikimedia Commons

Aung San Suu Kyi

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1991

Aung San Suu Kyi is a modern symbol of freedom for Burma (Myanmar), as she opposes violence, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi. She assumed a leading role in opposing Burma’s military junta and was a founder of the National League for Democracy.

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Carlos Rodriguez/ANDES // Wikimedia Commons

Rigoberta Menchú Tum

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1992

This Guatemalan Indian-rights activist gained worldwide attention with her book “I, Rigoberta Menchú,” a memoir that recaps the murders of her brother and mother. She received the Nobel for efforts to achieve social justice in Guatemala.

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West Point // Wikimedia Commons

Toni Morrison

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 1993

Toni Morrison’s book “Beloved” earned her the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award. Born in Ohio, Morrison was a writer whose work often chronicled life in the black community; she also served as professor emeritus at Princeton University.

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Rama // Wikimedia Commons

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 1995

Called “decidedly lazy” by a high school teacher, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard is a geneticist who published her first book for a popular audience, “Coming to Life,” in 2006. One of only 12 women to win a Nobel in the sciences, she took the helm of a landmark study that looked at genetic mutations in the fruit fly.

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Juan de Vojníkov // Wikimedia Commons

Wislawa Szymborska

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 1996

A native of Poland, Wislawa Szymborska was recognized by the Nobel committee for writing poetry that has “ironic precision.” Szymborska lived most of her life in Krakow. She attended Jagiellonian University and studied Polish literature.

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Horasis // flickr

Jody Williams

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 1997

Jody Williams, born in Vermont, advocates against landmines and is a prominent peace activist. She got her feet wet doing aid work in El Salvador and helped launch an international campaign against landmines.

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Nashirul Islam // Wikimedia Commons

Shirin Ebadi

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 2003

Ebadi earned her Nobel for spearheading democracy and furthering human rights, especially as they relate to women, refugees, and children. She’s also an Iranian lawyer and the founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center.

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The Royal Society // Wikimedia Commons

Linda B. Buck

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 2004

Buck attributes her mother's interest in puzzles as what ignited the flame for her interest in science. She is an American biologist and Seattle native whose work on olfactory receptors earned her the Nobel, along with Richard Axel.

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The-time-line // Wikimedia Commons

Wangari Muta Maathai

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 2004

Born in Nyeri, Kenya, Wangari Muta Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to receive a doctorate degree. All her work to advance democracy and human rights earned her Nobel. She has spoken in front of the U.N. and at special sessions of the General Assembly.

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Ghuengsberg // Wikimedia Commons

Elfriede Jelinek

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 2004

Although a social phobia prevented this Austrian author from accepting her Nobel in person, Jelinek has composed famous works such as the novels “The Piano Teacher” and “Lust.” She is a critic of modern consumer society and sets out in her work to chronicle the hidden structures of topics such as sexism.

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Elke Wetzig // Wikimedia Commons

Doris Lessing

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 2007

First published at age 15, Lessing was a visionary novelist, poet, and playwright. She was born in Iran to British parents, later moved to London, and has written 50 books.

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Michael Fleshman // Flickr

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 2008

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi made strides against the AIDS epidemic and in advancing treatment for her work with HIV. Barré-Sinoussi shares the Nobel with Luc Montagnier, who discovered a retrovirus in patients marked with swollen lymph glands that attacked lymphocytes.

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Prolineserver // Wikimedia Commons

Carol W. Greider

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 2009

Carol Greider, an American molecular biologist, is a professor at Johns Hopkins University. She shares her Nobel with Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack W. Szostak for their studies of the telomere, an enzyme structure at the end of chromosomes that protects it.

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Heike Huslage-Koch // Wikimedia Commons

Herta Müller

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 2009

This Romanian-born German writer won the Nobel Prize for writings that showcased the harshness of life in Romania under dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Themes such as totalitarianism and exile are the threads that permeate her work.

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Prolineserver // Wikimedia Commons

Elinor Ostrom

- Award: Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel
- Year: 2009

Elinor Ostrom was an American political economist whose groundbreaking research revealed that ordinary people can create guidelines that allow for the sustainable and fair management of shared resources. This discovery earned her the Nobel, which she shared with economist Oliver Williamson, a University of California, Berkeley professor.

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US Embassy Sweden // Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth H. Blackburn

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 2009

The daughter of two doctors, Blackburn studied the telomere, a structure at the end of chromosomes that protects it. She is responsible for co-discovering telomerase, which is an enzyme that replenishes the telomere. She shares her Nobel with Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak.

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Germán Fuentes Pavez // Flickr

Ada E. Yonath

- Award: Nobel Prize in Chemistry
- Year: 2009

Ada E. Yonath is an Israeli crystallographer best known for her work on the structure of the ribosome, a cellular particle. As a post-doc fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she started to investigate the structure of ribosomes using X-ray crystallography. Yonath is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

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Chatham House // Wikimedia Commons

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 2011

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa. She has written many books and was one of three recipients—along with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, who won the Nobel for efforts to further women’s rights.

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Nashirul Islam // Wikimedia Commons

Tawakkol Karman

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 2011

A Yemeni journalist, Karman has been involved in demonstrations and actions critical of the Yemeni regime, where democracy is restricted. She has even been arrested, and murder threats were made on her life. Karman co-founded the group Women Journalists Without Chains to promote freedom of expression and democratic rights.

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Fronteiras do Pensamento // Wikimedia Commons

Leymah Gbowee

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 2011

This Liberian peace activist is the founder and president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa. She’s most recognized for leading a peaceful movement, combining both Christian and Muslim women, to help end Liberia’s civil war.

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PETER MUHLY // Getty Images

Alice Munro

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 2013

Most of Munro’s books are short story collections. Most of them are set in her home nation of Canada and examine relationships through the lens of everyday events. They are not first person, but most of them reflect her experiences.

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Simon Davis // Wikimedia Commons

Malala Yousafzai

- Award: Nobel Peace Prize
- Year: 2014

Malala Yousafzai has made a huge impact in Pakistan, demanding gender equality, specifically fighting for girls to be allowed to receive an education. A Taliban gunman shot her in the head when she was coming home from school in 2012, but she survived and won the Nobel Peace Prize two years later, becoming the youngest-ever Nobel laureate.

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Gunnar K. Hansen // Wikimedia Commons

May-Britt Moser

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 2014

May-Britt Moser studied psychology and made a crucial discovery that provided insight on how humans and animals know where they are. Moser found a certain cell that determines one’s position; it is close to the hippocampus, centrally located in the brain.

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Bengt Nyman // Wikimedia Commons

Youyou Tu

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- Year: 2015

Youyou Tu extracted a substance called artemisinin that inhibits the malaria parasite. This discovery was crucial to the creation of anti-malaria drugs based on artemisinin. They have boosted survival rates and made a huge difference in health care for millions of people.

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Elke Wetzig // Wikimedia Commons

Svetlana Alexievich

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 2015

Svetlana Alexievich was born in the Ukraine, and her writing depicts life in the time of the Soviet Union. Her so-called "documentary novels," blur the lines between journalistic reporting and fiction. Her books often take aim at political regimes in the Soviet Union and Belarus.

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Cole Burston // Getty Images

Donna Strickland

- Award: Nobel Prize in Physics
- Year: 2018

Donna Strickland received the Nobel Prize in 2018, splitting it with Arthur Ashkin and Gérard Mourou, all of whom are instrumental figures in the field of laser physics. Born in Ontario, Canada, Strickland published her pioneering work, along with Mourou, in 1985, which detailed the invention of “chirped optical pulses,” super-fast strobes of laser beams. That technology is now used in laser eye surgeries, machining, medicine, and other applications.

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HEIKKI SAUKKOMAA/AFP // Getty Images

Frances Arnold

- Award: Nobel Prize in Chemistry
- Year: 2018

Frances Arnold was born and raised in Edgewood, a suburb of Pittsburgh, the daughter of a nuclear scientist. After graduating from Princeton, she conducted groundbreaking research on the directed evolution of enzymes, a process by which specially engineered proteins are created. She’s the first American woman, and the fifth woman overall, to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She won the prize with George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter.

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JULIAN STRATENSCHULTE/AFP // Getty Images

Nadia Murad

- Award: Nobel Prize in Peace
- Year: 2018

Nadia Murad is a human-rights activist who works in her home country of Iraq to help women and children who are victims of human trafficking, genocide, and other abuses. A member of the ethnic Yazidi minority, Murad was held captive by the Islamic State for three months before she escaped to a refugee camp. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018 with Denis Mukwege, who treats women who are the victims of rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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BRITTA PEDERSEN/dpa/AFP via Getty Images

Olga Tokarczuk

- Award: Nobel Prize in Literature
- Year: 2018

Olga Tokarczuk, the most recent woman to win a Nobel, is the 15th female literature laureate (out of 116 total literature laureates). Tokarczuk was awarded her Nobel "for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life." Tokarczuk became the first Polish winner of the prestigious Man Booker International Prize in 2018 for her novel "Flights," which was translated by Jennifer Croft. While Tokarczuk is referred to as the leading novelist of her generation in her native country, she has only more recently begun gaining recognition in English-speaking countries. 

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