Shy Historical Figures

People of Influence From History Who Were Shy

Being shy "is the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people," according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

When we look at the world today, we see many influences of famous figures from the past. The American Red Cross, the light bulb, and the airplane were all invented or founded by someone on the list below. Despite the huge impact that each of these historical figures had on the course of history, they were also all shy.

Albert Einstein

Getty/Fred Stein

Albert Einstein was a professor of theoretical physics at Princeton University,  known for his "Theory of Relativity." Despite his later success, Einstein grew up a shy young boy who had no interest in the pursuits of other boys his age. He also faced difficulty being Jewish in a largely Christian society. After boarding school, he gained confidence in himself as his later studies brought him new friends who shared his intellectual interests. Despite his shyness as a boy, the adult Einstein was not one to shy away from new opportunities, but he did avoid people who approached him once he became famous.

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." —​Albert Einstein

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis
Albert Ellis.

Albert Ellis was a psychologist and the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), an early form of the now-popular cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). During his lifetime, Ellis founded the Albert Ellis Institute to promote, educate, and train professionals in the use of REBT. In addition, Ellis served on the boards of many psychological organizations and authored several best-selling books.

Despite his public career, Ellis grew up naturally shy. At age 19, he decided to try to overcome his shyness around women and over the course of a month, he talked to over 130 women at the Bronx Botanical Garden. It was during this time that his ideas about short-term therapy were born.

"Thirty walked away immediately. ... I talked with the other 100, for the first time in my life, no matter how anxious I was. Nobody vomited and ran away. Nobody called the cops. ... I completely got over my shyness by thinking differently, feeling differently and, in particular, acting differently." —​Albert Ellis


Clara Barton

Clara Barton
Courtesy National Park Service

Clara Barton was an American nurse during the Civil War who lobbied for and became president of the first American branch of the Red Cross in 1881. Barton was a shy and timid child who grew up with a strong desire to help others in any way that she could, despite her shy nature.

"The surest test of discipline is its absence."—Clara Barton

Orville Wright

Orville Wright
Getty/Hulton Archive

Orville Wright and his brother, Wilbur, invented the airplane. Orville was known as the shy brother despite his impulsive and mischievous nature. Around family and friends he was open and outgoing but among strangers, he appeared painfully shy. As a result, his brother was the public representative for the duo.

"If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance."—Orville Wright

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong
Getty/Ronald Dumont

Neil Armstrong was an astronaut and the first man to walk on the moon. He famously said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," before making the first step. Despite his fame, Armstrong avoided the public eye and rarely gave interviews. Known to be aloof, those around him claimed he preferred to talk about facts rather than feelings.

"Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand."—Neil Armstrong

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison
Getty/Hulton Archive

Thomas Edison was an American inventor known best for inventing the light bulb. Despite his enormous success as an inventor, he was extremely shy in front of an audience, an affliction that prevented him from pursuing a career as an actor.

"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."— Thomas Edison


Akpan N. 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Orville Wright. PBS NewsHour. Published August 20, 2015.

BBC News Magazine. Who is Neil Armstrong? Updated July 6, 2009.

Biography. Clara Barton. Updated April 27, 2017.

Brainy Quote. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong, Clara Barton, Orville Wright.

Fee E. Einstein: The Shy Genius. Circulating Now. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published October 2, 2014.

Hurley D. From Therapy's Lenny Bruce: Get Over It! Stop Whining! The New York Times. Published May 4, 2004.

National Park Service. A Brief Biography of Thomas Edison. Updated February 26, 2015.

REBT Network. Dr. Albert Ellis. Published 2006.