For centuries, women across the globe have been shattering glass ceilings in various arenas, paving the way for those following in their footsteps — both literally and figuratively. Case in point: Mount Everest. As of December 2023, 799 women have reached its summit. But before 1975, that number was zero. It wasn’t until Junko Tabei decided to ascend the world’s tallest mountain that women could see someone representing them at the top.

Tabei is one of the many female trailblazers who opened doors for others. To celebrate these milestone-making leaders, we compiled a list of 25 who were “the firsts” in their fields. Some of the names are very well known, others you may be seeing for the first time. But every woman has made her mark and set a powerful example of what’s possible.

We hope each one serves as a reminder to keep going in your own life — whether you’re chasing after big dreams, building new habits, or simply striving to be a little better than yesterday.

Tabei is one of the many female trailblazers who opened doors for others. To celebrate these milestone-making leaders, we compiled a list of 25 who were “the firsts” in their fields. Some of the names are very well known, others you may be seeing for the first time. But every woman has made hermark and set a powerful example of what’s possible.


We hope each one serves as a reminder to keep going in your own life — whether you’re chasing after big dreams, building new habits, or simply striving to be a little better than yesterday.

Junko Tabei | First Woman to Climb Mount Everest

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As mentioned above, Japanese mountaineer Tabei was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest — the world’s tallest mountain above sea level. After Everest, she kept climbing and became the first woman to reach the Seven Summits in 1992. Despite being diagnosed with stomach cancer, Tabei continued to pursue her passion for mountaineering until she died at age 77 in 2016, according to The New York Times.

“I just climb mountains because I love it.” – Junko Tabei

Lisa Franchetti | First Woman to Lead the U.S. Navy

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On Nov. 2, 2023, Lisa Franchetti became the first woman to lead the U.S. Navy and the first woman to join the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Over Franchetti’s nearly 40-year career, she’s garnered a long list of achievements — from earning medals and awards to serving as the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Development.

“I’ve always believed that if you can see it, you can be it … so set your sights high.” – Lisa Franchetti

Raymonde de Laroche | First Woman to Receive a Pilot’s License

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A Parisian actor-turned-aviation pioneer, Raymonde de Laroche was the first woman to receive a pilot’s license in 1910. After getting licensed, de Laroche continued to break records — including setting a women’s altitude record of 15,700 feet in 1919 — and she even volunteered to fly for the French military during World War I but was barred because of her gender, per National Geographic.


Aretha Franklin | First Woman Inducted Into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

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Among singer Aretha Franklin’s many achievements is being the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The “Queen of Soul” paved the way for other female artists and bands who were honored in the following years, including The Supremes (1988), Bessie Smith (1989), and Ma Rainey (1990).

“We all require and want respect, man or woman, Black or white. It’s our basic human right.” – Aretha Franklin

Frances Allen | First Woman to Win a Turing Award

In 2006, Frances Allen became the first female recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award, which is often considered the Nobel Prize of Computing. Trained as a math teacher, Allen taught elementary algebra and advanced trigonometry at the high school she attended. She later transitioned to working at IBM, where she spent over four decades of her career and became the first female IBM fellow.

“I’m exploring the edges, finding new ways of doing things. It keeps me very, very engaged.” – Frances Allen

Valentina Tereshkova | First Woman to Go to Space

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A Russian engineer and former Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova holds the epic title of the first woman to ever go to space. In 1963, she flew a solo mission on Vostok 6, circling the Earth 48 times over three days.

Six decades later, Tereshkova is now in her 80s and is raring to go back to space. According to NASA, “Tereshkova lives in a cottage topped with a seagull-shaped weather vane at the cosmonaut training center outside Moscow and continues to be active in cosmonaut circles. … She still holds out hope to fly to Mars one day, even if it would be a one-way trip.”


“A bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human spaceflight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women.” – Valentina Tereshkova

Marie Curie | First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize

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Marie Curie won not one but two Nobel Prizes. In 1903, the Polish-French physicist and chemist was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize for her and her husband’s research into spontaneous radiation. Less than a decade later, she made history again, becoming the first person to win a second Nobel Prize for her discoveries of polonium and radium.

“I am among those who think that science has great beauty.” – Marie Curie

Kathryn Bigelow | First Woman to Win an Oscar for Best Director

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In 2010, then-58-year-old Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker. Three years later, her historical drama Zero Dark Thirty earned five Oscar nominations. Now 72, she is working on an upcoming Netflix project based on a thriller novel.

“If I had a prayer of shooting something that intrigued me, I was going to have to be the architect of my own fate.” – Kathryn Bigelow

Madam C. J. Walker | The First Female Self-Made Millionaire

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Madam C. J. Walker (pictured above in the driver’s seat) wore many hats: She was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist. In 1905, she launched her own line of hair products and straighteners for Black women with just over a dollar in her pocket, and went on to become the first female self-made millionaire.


As her business and wealth grew, so did her advocacy work. Walker used her platform to promote racial equity and empower women to gain financial independence.

“Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come … get up and make them!” – Madam C.J. Walker

Kathrine Switzer | First Woman to Officially Run the Boston Marathon

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An icon in the running world, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967 and finish — despite a race official trying to push her off the course (as seen in this photo). Fifty years after the milestone-making event, Switzer ran the course again in 2017. Today, she continues to participate in the sport and cheer on fellow runners and marathoners.

“Running has always been my touchstone. It’s always been my soul.” – Kathrine Switzer

Danica Patrick | First Woman to Lead an Indy 500 Race

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Danica Patrick is a racing legend. In 2005, she made history as the first woman to lead laps in the Indy 500, and three years later, she was crowned the first female winner of an IndyCar championship event.

According to Brittanica, Patrick started racing go-karts as a child in her home state of Wisconsin and kept putting pedal to the metal until she fully retired from racing in 2018. Now, she continues to use her voice to inspire others on her podcast Pretty Intense.


“I think that I put pressure on myself to win because I’ve always known that I’m good enough to win.” – Danica Patrick

Kamala Harris | First Female Vice President of the United States

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On Jan. 20, 2021, Kamala Harris made history in more ways than one: She was sworn in as the first woman vice president of the United States, and she also became the first Black American and first South Asian American to be elected to the position.

“My mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.’” – Kamala Harris

More Women Who Made Their Mark in History Books

Muzoon Almellehan | The Youngest and First Official Refugee Named a Goodwill Ambassador ​

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Edith Wharton | First Woman to Win Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

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Samantha Bee | First Woman to Host a Late-Night Satire Show

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Charlotte Cooper | First Female Olympic Gold Medalist in an Individual Event

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Wallis Simpson | Time Magazine’s First Woman of the Year

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Amelia Earhart | First Woman to Fly Nonstop and Solo Across the Atlantic Ocean

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Loretta Perfectus Walsh | First Woman to Officially Enlist in the U.S. Navy

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Victoria Woodhull | First Woman to Run for President

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Jeannette Rankin | First Woman Elected to Congress

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