1. Kim Phuc
This photograph of a naked 9-year-old girl running for her life shocked people all over the world back in 1972. As bombs detonated around Trang Bang, Vietnam, photographer Nick Ut captured the scene. The girl pictured is Kim Phuc, who remembers pulling her clothing off as it clung to her skin from the flammable, deadly napalm. Though the photo represents pain and horror, Phuc doesn’t regret being the subject, she recently told CNN. She’s gone on to become a mentor and goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. Many believe that Ut’s image helped to bring an end to the Vietnam War.
2. Sharbat Gula
When National Geographic published this photograph on its June 1985 cover, the world was mesmerized and haunted by the eyes of “The Afghan Girl.” Photographer Steve McCurry encountered her in a refugee camp in Pakistan, but it wasn’t until 17 years later that anyone knew her name. Sharbat Gula is Pashtun, was married at the age of 13, and is now a mother to three children. When National Geographic made contact with her family in 2002, her brother reportedly said, “Sharbat has never known a happy day, except perhaps the day of her marriage.”
3. Florence Owens Thompson
Few images have been as deeply impactful in America’s collective memory of The Great Depression as “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange. The woman pictured is Florence Owens Thompson, an out-of-work pea picker, who Lange approached at a camp in Nipomo California in 1936. Thomson was a mother of seven children, and had been living on “frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed.” The image of Thompson revealed the reality of extreme poverty that faced countless families who were forced from their land as a result of the Dust Bowl.
4. Ruby Bridges
This photograph, taken in 1960 outside of William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, shows U.S. Marshals escorting a young Ruby Bridges to her first day of school. Bridges was the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white school. Her story became emblematic of the impact of segregation and racism at the time. Bridges is now chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which she formed in 1999 to promote “the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences.” Most recently in 2014, a statue in honor of Bridges was unveiled at William Frantz Elementary School.
5. Rita Petry and Greta Zimmer
There’s an unlikely story behind this famous photograph, taken on V-J Day in Times Square on August 14, 1945. Though it’s assumed to be a romantic embrace between a sailor his sweetheart, the woman swept off her feet for “The Kiss” was actually Greta Zimmer, a stranger to sailor George Mendonsa. In a moment of inebriated celebration, Mendonsa later recalled grabbing the first “nurse” he could find, a move that might not have gone over well with his date, Rita Petry, who is seen smiling in the background. It turns out the bold move paid off, though. The photo landed on the cover of LIFE Magazine a week later. Mendonsa and Petry married, and have spent their lives together.
6. Mary Vecchio
Mary Vecchio is the woman pictured in this Pulitzer-Prize winning image, captured by John Filo in the aftermath of the Kent State Shootings on May 4, 1970. Vecchio, who at the time was a 14-year-old runaway from the Miami area, cried out as she kneeled over the body of Jeffrey Miller, one of 4 people killed by Ohio guardsman that day. In 2009, Vecchio reunited with photographer Filo, and told the Beacon Journal that she has come to terms with her fame, which haunted her for quite a while.