Women have always had to fight for their place among men, and these struggles against adversity are built on the backs of female forerunners who broke through social norms and made groundbreaking moves in the worlds of academia, politics, sports and creativity.

Katherine Switzer

Katherine Switzer

These pioneering women have paved the way for where society is today, but even now their achievements are minimized and hidden away. It’s time to appreciate some of the women who’ve marked history. Here are 11 women who were the first to reach major achievements in their fields:

Valentina Tereshkova: First woman in space

The Russian, Valentina Tereshkova, made history as the first woman in space. Previously a factory assembly worker, Tereshkova was recruited by the Russian Cosmonaut program and set a trailblazing path for women as she reached space in the Vostok 6 on June 16th, 1963. 

Elena Lucrezia: First woman to receive a university degree

A venetian philosopher of noble descent, Elena Lucrezia made history in 1678 as the first woman to receive a degree. From the founding of universities in western Europe, women were unable to obtain doctoral degrees, but Lucrezia paved the way for women’s education when she received her Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Bologna, Italy. 

Gertrude Ederle: First woman to swim the English Channel

Gertrude Ederle proved that women are capable of impressive physical feats when she became the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926. The American had been swimming since an early age and her skills and endurance carried her across the channel in a time two hours shorter than the fastest man to have completed the swim. 

Junko Tabei: First woman to climb to the summit of Everest

In another feat of physical endurance, Junko Tabei co-led a group of women to climb Mount Everest and became the first ever woman to set foot on the peak. The diminutive woman went on to climb the highest mountain on every continent.

Marie Curie: First woman to receive a Nobel Prize

Not only the first woman to win a Nobel Prize at all, but still the only woman to have won it twice, Marie Curie was a groundbreaking pioneer of women in science with her research on radioactivity. Her first Nobel Prize was a joint award with her husband, but she reinforced her claim as an outstanding scientist with a second prize in 1911 for chemistry.

Helen Hayes: First woman to win “EGOT”

After an illustrious career in theatre, film and television, Helen Hayes made the ground-breaking achievement of becoming the first woman and one of only 16 in history to achieve “EGOT” status — winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award. Versatile and talented, she remains a legendary figure in the performing arts.

Edith Wharton: First woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize

Another prize-winning woman, Edith Wharton became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for her stunning book, The Age of Innocence, in 1921. This critique of upper-class society cemented her name as one of the foremost women in literature.

Sarann Knight-Preddy: First and only woman of color to receive a gaming license

A pioneer and keen entrepreneur, Sarann Knight-Preddy is the first and only woman of color to receive a gaming license in Nevada. After many years working clubs in Las Vegas, Sarann took the leap to open her own bar and casino. Her achievement paved the way for both women and people of color in the current casino industry.

Kathrine Switzer: First woman to run the Boston Marathon

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer made news as the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon. Against the will of race officials who tried to remove her from the course, Switzer defied the gender stereotypes that had persisted despite all the other groundbreaking feats by women up to this date and continued to prove the capability of women worldwide.

Oprah Winfrey: First Black female billionaire

In its first year, the influential talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show” grossed $125m, and Oprah took her $30m cut and grew it with keen entrepreneurial skills and charisma to a billion by 2003. Winfrey is a media powerhouse and successfully claimed her place as the first black female billionaire. Winfrey is also a philanthropist and empowers social causes, and she still inspires women today

Amelia Earhart: First woman to fly a plane across the Atlantic

Amelia Earhart’s aeronautical career came to an end when she mysteriously disappeared while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. However, this wasn’t without leaving achievements in her wake that would ensure she was remembered by history. Earhart was the first woman to ever fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932.


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