Once in a while, a very savvy and smart kid makes a difference and changes the course of history. Here are six people who left their mark at a young age.
At age 13, believing she was on a mission from God but having no military experience, Joan of Arc led the French army in a major victory against the English at Orléans during the Hundred Years’ War and helped make it possible for Charles VII to regain the kingdom in 1429. Joan of Arc was captured by the English in 1430 and burned at the stake in 1431. She became a French national hero and was, at long last, canonized in 1920, becoming Saint Joan of Arc.
In 1958, at age 15, Bobby Fischer became the youngest chess player in history to be named grandmaster, the highest title possible. He had begun to attract international attention two years earlier when he was victorious in what became known as the “Game of the Century” between him and Donald Byrne. He continued to gather awards and winnings until the mid-1970s, when he went into seclusion, only to reemerge in 1992 to play one highly publicized game versus his former opponent Boris Spassky.
(Read Garry Kasparov’s Britannica essay on chess & Deep Blue.)
The Braille language for the blind was developed by Louis Braille in 1824, when he was just 15 years old. He tweaked it and expanded it after that, but, having been blind himself since the age of 3, he was inspired at a young age to conceive of a way to read and write. Braille consists of a code of 63 characters, each made up of one to six raised dots arranged in a six-position matrix or cell. The dots are embossed on paper and are read by using one’s fingers. He published the first Braille book, a three-volume history book, in 1837.
In 1951 the 16-year-old Barbara Johns initiated a student strike over substandard facilities at her segregated school in Farmville, Virginia. Her activism attracted the attention of two National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lawyers, who took her case to court to fight for better resources and to demand equality. The case, Dorothy E. Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, was one of five reviewed by the Supreme Court during the hearings of Brown v. Board of Education and used as evidence that segregated schools are unconstitutional.
Though she didn’t publish it until she was 21, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus when she was 18. She wrote several other well-regarded novels throughout her career, but Frankenstein became her best known and remains a classic.
In 2014, at age 17, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The young activist from Pakistan had become famous for speaking out against the Taliban and encouraging young girls like herself to pursue an education. She made her first public speech touting the cause when she was only 11 years old. She attracted international attention when she survived an attempt on her life at age 15.