Whether or not Madonna counts as a feminist icon depends wholly on who you ask. However, few would disagree that she's a woman who has made history. So she's on the list.
Madonna was born in Michigan in 1958. She was the third of six children born to an Italian-American father and a French-Canadian mother. Her mother died when she was five, and her father remarried and had two more children.
After graduating high school, Madonna received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. At the end of her sophomore year, in 1977, she quit UM and moved to New York to pursue her career as a dancer.
When she moved to New York, Madonna had no money and worked as a nude model, as well as taking a job at Dunkin' Donuts. Eventually, however, she found work in modern dance companies. Throughout the late 70s and early 80s Madonna continued to dance and formed two short-lived rock bands.
In 1982, Madonna signed her first record deal, with Warner Bros. spin-off Sire Records. Her earliest releases were hits in the dance community, but did not have mainstream success. However, three singles off her debut full-length album, Madonna, were eventually successful ("Holiday," "Borderline," and "Lucky Star"), once they were remixed by Jellybean Benitez. With the success of these songs and their music videos, girls all over the country began sporting Madonna-influenced styles, including lace gloves and bleached hair. Madonna's became a definitive female style of the 1980s.
Madonna's next album, Like a Virgin, was immediately successful. Then, in the mid-80s, Madonna began her acting career, appearing in films such as Desperately Seeking Susan.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Madonna continued to release albums (True Blue, Like a Prayer) and appear in films (Who's That Girl?, Dick Tracy). She became very controversial, particularly for the Catholic symbolism used in the video for "Like a Prayer." Following up on that controversy, she released first the sexually explicit music video for "Justify my Love" and then the sexually explicit tour documentary "Truth or Dare." As her controversy grew, so did her fame.
In the mid 1990s, Madonna continued to morph into different characters and surprise and delight her audiences. She released the album Erotica, included topless dancers in her live shows, and produced a coffee table book, Sex, which included sexual and nude photographs of herself and others. She then took a turn back to her R&B roots with the release of her 1994 album, Bedtime Stories.
In 1996, Madonna released her most critically successful film, the musical Evita. She received a Golden Globe for her role in the film, and "You Must Love Me," a song written specifically for the film, won an Academy Award.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Madonna tried out more new sounds, releasing a down-tempo album, Ray of Light, in 1998, and house-influenced album, Music, in 2000. Since then, she has released two more albums, 2003's American Life and 2005's Confessions on a Dance Floor. She's also continued to tour.
Madonna has two children, Lourdes (born in 1996) and Rocco (born in 2000). She and her husband Guy Ritchie are also in the process of adopting a third child, David. This adoption has been very controversial, due to allegations of special treatment of Madonna and her family and the David's father not being willing to give him up for adoption. How that situation will resolve itself is still unknown.
Photo description: the photo is of Madonna, taken recently. She is in her late 40s. She has long blond hair and a gap between her teeth and is smiling widely.