A Brief History of Women in Power

Brief History of Women in Power
Bettmann / CORBIS

Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Sri Lanka
Fifty years ago, Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected, becoming the first female head of government the world had ever known. Her victory was so groundbreaking, no one knew what to call her. "There will be need for a new word," London's Evening News wrote the day after she was elected as Prime Minister in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). "Presumably, we shall have to call her a stateswoman." Bandaranaike assumed the role of party leader after her husband was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959. When her party won the July 1960 election, she took the country's reins and held them until 1965. She would serve as Prime Minister again from 1970 to 1977 and from 1994 to 2000. It was her daughter, who had become the country's first female President in 1994, who appointed her to her final term, though the position had become largely ceremonial at that point. She stepped down in April 2000 and died later that year — on the very day she cast her ballot in the country's elections.

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