Israel had had only one foreign minister by the time Golda Meir was named to the post in 1956, but there was a logic to making hers the public face of what at the time was an eight-year-old state for a 2,000-year-old nation. Born in Kyiv and raised in Milwaukee, Golda Meir embraced the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland, and proved effective at promoting it. After she raised $50 million for Israel’s war of independence, founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote that Meir was the “Jewish woman who got the money which made the state possible.” Her legacy also included a dismissive approach to a Palestinian national identity and the trauma of the Yom Kippur War. But in a newly minted society where female military service was the norm, Meir’s 1969 election to prime minister made her not only the first woman to lead Israel, but also a role model in another liberation movement, farther west. –Karl Vick
This article is part of 100 Women of the Year, TIME’s list of the most influential women of the past century. Read more about the project, explore the 100 covers and sign up for our Inside TIME newsletter for more.