Women’s History Month: 50+ Women Who are Making History Right Now
March is Women’s History Month and a time to reflect on all of women’s great accomplishments, from the beginning of recorded history to today. Heroines of the past like Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, and Susan B. Anthony are all top of mind, but with 2020 rocking the world, we’re living history each day as 2021 unfolds. Who are the women making history right now? We created a list of 50 courageous females who are doing just that, making their mark in the story of Earth. This list is only a small sample of the astounding women out there, and we give thanks to all those mothers, sisters, and daughters doing their part every day to make our lives better.
We certainly aren’t biased 😉, but what better way to start the list than with some adventurers. These traveling women have more on their agenda than site-seeing.
Founder of FatGirlsTraveling on Instagram
Richmond is a body-positive role model who found the looks she received as a plus-sized woman while traveling to be uncomfortable and disheartening. Furthermore, she found inclusivity in travel marketing to be lacking, so she created the Fat Girls Traveling Instagram account. Richmond’s honest, fun, and all-embracing IG account soon morphed into a movement that has spawned a blog and many other outlets to let women of all sizes know they are beautiful and love the skin they’re in.
Jan Meek, Aileen Crean O’Brien, Caroline Geraerts, Madhabilata Amrita Mitra, Tanvi Buch, and Dr. Claire Grogan
Explorers of Antarctica
This team of “ordinary” women (as they label themselves) have traveled to the highest, coldest, and driest place on Earth to achieve four main goals. Their goals are scientific, personal, environmental, and philanthropic in nature. Ranging in age from 25-75, the Polar Maidens want to study the effects such a harsh environment will have on them and how each at a different stage of life recovers mentally and physically. This type of study has been done with men and athletes, but not more “ordinary” women. They also seek to show how far women have come since the 1910 men’s expedition. Also, the Polar Maidens’ journey raises funds for the Inspirationelle Project, which supports anyone, but particularly women and children, in making their extraordinary dreams a reality.
The first American female cruise ship captain
McCue has not only earned her stripes (quite literally), she also continues to defend her right to be behind the ship’s wheel, while making sure grammar rules are followed. Following becoming the first American female mega-ship captain in 2015, she currently resides in the captain’s chair of the Celebrity Edge.
Travel TV Host
Having traveled to 62 countries and hosted 10 travel TV shows, Brown is a well-rounded traveler. Paying her dues with eight years of waiting tables, she kicked off her latest show Samantha Brown’s Places to Love on PBS in 2018. To produce her shows, Brown travels roughly 230 days out of the year and an hour-long episode takes around eight days to film!
COO & Underwater Explorer
A true frontier-blazer, Fundis has been on over 50 underwater expeditions since 2006. She spends most of her time on E/V Nautilus, the Ocean Exploration Trust ship of which she is the Chief Operating Officer. Not only has Fundis led an expedition to try to find women’s history icon Amelia Earhart, but she’s also part of a group aiming to map the entire ocean floor by 2030. Mapping our ocean floor will lead to a better understanding of ocean pollution and ways to help reverse climate change.
Beginning her career as a geologist, Darke suffered a tragic accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down. She didn’t let this stop her from experiencing a truly amazing life, however. Since her accident, Darke’s become a Paralympic silver medal winner; crossed Greenland’s ice cap sitting on skis, using her arms; climbed three mountains, including El Capitan; and skied, hand-cycling, and swam the length of Japan. Currently, she’s training for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympics.
National Geographic Photographer
Having traveled to over 100 countries, Vitale’s philosophy is “living the story” that she captures with her lens. In 2020, she became the TreadRight Foundation’s first-ever “Wildlife Ambassador,” in recognition of her passion for and work in wildlife conservation. Vitale’s recent National Geographic Live: Rhinos, Rickshaws, and Revolutions tells about her experiences on the frontline and has a classroom guide for students in grades 3-12 with activities they can do before and after watching the show.
Named Time’s “Person of the Year” in 2019 (the youngest ever), this 18-year-old has put her years to good use in getting world leaders to take action against climate change. At 15, Thunburg spent her school days outside the Swedish Parliament calling for action, which in turn sparked a protest around the world that came to be known as “Fridays for Future,” where students weekly went on strike to make a difference. She continues the act today and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize both in 2019 and 2020.
At 12, Pannell was named the national leader of a 47-city wide organization known as Youth Move. She was then focused on younger voting rights, teaching finances earlier, helping the elderly learn new technology, and helping to end childhood obesity. Pannell helped organize a nationwide student walkout to end gun violence in schools. She’s also founded a completely youth-run organization, Tools for Change, that works to provide young people with anything they need. Pannell’s latest cause has been human trafficking, about which she even delivered a TED Talk. She continues her activism as a current student at Duke University.
Founder of the #MeToo Movement
TIME’s 2017 Person of the Year, Burke is known as the founder of the #MeToo movement. She’s been involved in non-profit work since she was a teenager in the 1980s and has since founded several organizations to empower young girls, particularly in the Black community. This includes Burke’s current foundation JustBe, Inc., which after making a huge impact in the community was adopted by all Selma, Alabama public schools. The hashtag #MeToo has now been used over 19 million times on Twitter alone and has ignited an empathic rallying cry for women who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse.
Author & Activist
A Black transgender activist, Willis uses her voice to elevate the dignity of marginalized people, particularly Black transgender people. She founded Black Trans Circles in 2018 to develop Black trans leadership in the South and Midwest. Willis spoke at the 2017 Women’s March in DC and, in 2020, was named one of Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30. She continues working on specific community initiatives and writing in Essence, Out, and other publications to spread her message.
Not only has Bechdel contributed many works that uplift women through her cartoons, but she is also known for creating the Bechdel Test. The test is used to measure the representation of women in fiction—it asks if a piece of fiction has at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Several sources say that only about half of films meet the requirement and that it has shone a light on gender inequality in the industry. While there’s still a significant way to go for equal representation in the film industry, the number of women represented is climbing.
Singer-Songwriter & Activist
Parton has been a philanthropist throughout her long career, focusing mainly on child literacy. Her Imagination Library is now a worldwide program that delivers high-quality books to children in need. More recently, Parton was in the news for her donation to fund research of the Moderna vaccine. And if that isn’t enough for us to love her, she asked her home state of Tennessee to halt progress on a statue in her honor because she understands there are more important things to be done at this moment in history.
American Football Official
Thomas made headlines in February for being the first female football official to referee at a Super Bowl, but this isn’t the first time she’s made history. In 2015, she became the first female official in the NFL, prompting her feature in a Super Bowl LIII commercial. Her love of sports began early—she was the first person to letter in softball five times during her high school career, and she attended college on a basketball scholarship. Her officiating career began in 1996.
A swimming teacher from the UK, Harrison, at age 21, is now the youngest woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Her 3,000-mile journey took 70 days, three hours, and 48 minutes. “I want to inspire young people to get out there and do something, whether that be changing the world or just doing something outside your comfort zone,” Harrison wrote in a statement on her website.
Olympic Medalist & Activist
A track and field sprinter, Felix was named among Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020. And it’s no wonder, as she’s the only female athlete with six Olympic gold medals. Felix’s inspiration doesn’t end there, as she’s become an activist in support of maternal rights. Several years ago, she took on her sponsor, Nike, who threatened to drop her during her pregnancy. After a harrowing delivery experience, Felix realized if she could be in a life-threatening situation with great health care, what could other women, less well-off, especially of color be facing? She’s since been fighting for the rights of mothers everywhere and has partnered with Better Starts for All.
Miami Marlins General Manager
Not only the GM for the Marlins, but Ng is also the highest-ranking female executive in baseball. In 2020, she became the first woman to be named a GM in the Big Four leagues (Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League) and the first GM of Asian-American descent of an MLB team. It’s been reported that over the past 15 years she was on the shortlist to be an MLB GM five times, and we’re so happy she was finally promoted!
What list of women making history in sports is complete without Serena Williams? Formerly number one in women’s singles tennis, she’s won 23 Grand Slam singles titles. Williams has been ranked eight times as the world’s number one woman tennis player by the Women’s Tennis Association. Amid the pandemic, as a mom, she committed to sharing 4.5 million masks with students as well as educational materials about how to wear a mask properly.
Osaka was the first Asian player to be ranked number one by the Women’s Tennis Association. In 2020, she rankedeighth among all athletes for endorsement income and was named the highest-earning female athlete of all time that year. Osaka is known for her involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement and has been named the 2020 Sports Illustrated Person of the Year for her activism during her U.S. Open championship run.
Assistant Running Backs Coach
On January 26, 2021, King was appointed to her current role of Assistant Running Backs Coach, making her the first African American female assistant position coach in NFL history as well as the second female in an assistant coach position. Her experience isn’t just on the sidelines, as she is a seven-time All-American quarterback and wide receiver for the Carolina Pheonix women’s tackle football team.
Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach
2020 was Javadifar’s second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach. Along with Lori Locust, she became one of the first female coaches on a team that won the Super Bowl. We can’t wait to see her ring!
Chaka recently made history as the first black female referee in the NFL this past Friday. She is also the second female referee behind Sarah Thomas who we also included in our list of amazing athletic women. Chaka has been training with the NFL since 2014 and has other milestones under her belt such as becoming one of the first females to ref an FBS game.
Vice President of the United States
Harris has been making headlines for years, but in 2021 she made headlines as the first woman, person of color, and Asian American to become the Vice President of the United States of America. As District Attorney of San Francisco, she gave first-time drug offenders the opportunity to earn degrees and find jobs. As the Attorney General of California, Harris fought for the environment and marriage equality. After being sworn into the U.S. Senate, she championed legislation to end hunger, reverse climate change, provide rent relief, and provide better maternal health care. Vice President Harris continues to be a pioneer for many women wishing to enter politics.
Prime Minister of New Zealand
When elected to be Prime Minister in 2017, Ardern became the youngest female head of government in the world. Her decisive but empathetic approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand has led her country to be one of the most successful at curbing its spread. Prime Minister Ardern has earned praise from across the globe for her authentic and compassionate style as well as her ability to inject humor and delight where appropriate—such as naming the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny as essential workers.
Not only is this a historic year for naming a female vice president, but women are also more represented now than ever before in the U.S. government with 143 seats, up from 127 in 2019. Not only female representation has grown either, Marilyn Strickland, Michelle Steel, and Young Kim are the first Korean American women and Stephanie Irene Bice is the first Iranian American woman elected to Congress. Cori Bush, a Missouri Congressperson, is the first black woman to hold that title and represent her state.
Five of 15 cabinet roles are currently slated to be filled by women, making Biden’s cabinet not only the most diverse in U.S. history but also one of the most diverse governing bodies in the world. Janet Yellen has become the first female U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and she previously served as the first female chair of the Federal Reserve. Jennifer Grenholm, the current Secretary of Energy, was previously the first female governor of Michigan. Marica Fudge has been nominated as the Secretary of Housing & Urban Development. Deb Haaland has been nominated as Secretary of the Interior and will be the first Native American Cabinet secretary if confirmed. The first female governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, has been nominated to become the Secretary of Commerce.
Former First Lady of the United States
The first African American First Lady, Obama has been making history for years. Before and throughout her husband’s presidency, she fought for education, service members and their families, and an end to childhood obesity. Obama is currently adapting her best-selling book Becoming for younger readers, ages 10 and up, to help create a conversation-starter for families.
The first National Youth Poet Laureate, Gorman has been making career moves in 2021. She spoke words of inspiration at the Inauguration of President Biden and then went on to perform before the National Anthem at Super Bowl LV. Gorman had already graduated cum laude from Harvard University, written for the New York Times, and started work on three books. As impressive as her accomplishments are, we’re most taken by her choice to channel her talents toward affecting positive societal change.
When life handed Hill lemons, she used her passion to make lemonade. An avid dancer from a young age, when a drunk-driving accident left her paralyzed, she didn’t give up. Instead, Hill created a wheelchair dance team, the Rollettes, which brings together women of different abilities. She’s using her voice to empower women with disabilities and promote inclusion in entertainment, beauty, and fashion.
Eilish, an extraordinarily popular singer-songwriter, is only 19 years old. Her upcoming documentary film The World is a Little Blurry will chronicle what it’s like to grow up as a star while finding her path and voice. She’s held two Guinness World Records during her career and amassed more than 14 music awards, including five Grammy Awards.
The former chef at Chicago’s omakase destination, Kikko and Kumiko, Russell became the first Black female chef to receive a Michelin Award. After a long career and that historic achievement, she decided in 2020 to step down from Kikko and Kumiko to focus on her mental health—a great reminder that everyone needs to take time for self-care. We celebrate her for her success and for making such a bold decision!
Author of the Emmy award-winning New York Times column and video series, “Life, Interrupted,” Jaouad wrote the series from her hospital bed after being diagnosed with Leukemia. Since then, her work has pertained to the in-between issues currently met with silence. During the pandemic, Jaouad created the Isolation Journals, an artist-run community that provides weekly journal prompts to “buil[d] a living archive of human creativity to document an unforgettable era.”
Zhao is making moves in Hollywood, bringing more female representation into the industry. Her film “Songs My Brother Taught Me” started the upward trajectory of her career in 2015, followed by a raging success of her 2020 feature, “Nomadland.” Zhao’s latest venture, with Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the superhero film “Eternals,” set for release in November 2021.
Machado has been praised for her memoir “In the Dream House,” which chronicles her experience in an abusive lesbian relationship. The book opens the conversation about abuse to queer relationships—which hasn’t been discussed much but is a stigma in all relationships—and is split into small sections that are written as different genres, adding a layer of artistry.
TIME’s 2019 Entertainer of the Year, Lizzo has performed on a worldwide tour, won three Grammys in 2020, and reached many other milestones. Recently, she’s hosted meditation sessions on her social media accounts, to help her fans find a little bit of peace during such a trying time, and selected hospitals around the country at which to provide all staff with meals as they fight on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lizzo also activates her huge fan base, encouraging her fans to donate to causes like the Australian wildfires and pandemic relief.
Scientist & Inventor
Another incredible woman recognized by Time magazine, as their first-ever “Kid of the Year,” Rao won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge at 12 (she’s now 15)! Her invention, Tethys, detects lead levels in water and reports back to an app through Bluetooth®. Rao has also invented a device that can help detect opioid addiction early on as well as an app, Kindly, that serves as an early detection system for cyberbullying. As if that isn’t enough, she’s an accomplished pianist. You can hear Rao speak at NYLF Explore STEM Alumni, an Envision by WorldStrides experience.
COVID-19 Vaccine Creators
Perhaps nothing is more top-of-mind right now than a COVID-19 vaccine to get us back out into a more familiar way of experiencing the world. These women are on the front lines of trying to get the pandemic under control. Jansen, Ph.D. has led the Pfizer team of scientists in the vaccine race, helping her company to be the first to push a viable vaccine out the door. To do this, she’s headed a team of 650, night and day, over Zoom. Bennett led a similar race with her team at Moderna, who came out with a vaccine at the same time as Pfizer. She urged Moderna to take the gamble of working on a vaccine early on when first reports of the virus’ contagious nature came to light. Dr. Corbett has also been leading vaccine efforts at the National Institute of Health (NIH), and her charismatic and empathetic nature is hoped to be a beacon of trust among the Black community, as skepticism of the vaccine can be widespread. While not involved in the vaccine, Gardner created the Johns Hopkins University dashboard that shares information about COVID-19. Her system has been used by global health authorities and the public to help track the outbreak since early January 2020. Ladies, thank you so much for your hard work!
Founder & CEO of Girls Who Code
Saujani’s TED Talk “Teach girls bravery, not perfection” is her mantra. This talk topic morphed into her book and award-winning podcast Brave, Not Perfect. Saujani’s work aims to close the gender gap in science-based fields and show young girls that they don’t have to do or be what society encourages—that they can break out of their comfort zones to do anything they want. There are now over 1,500 Girls Who Code clubs around the world and the organization has helped over 300,000 girls through classes and workshops.
Nashlie Sephus, Ph.D.
Sephus is an applied science manager for Amazon’s artificial intelligence department. Her team at Amazon AI is focused on “fairness in AI,” and she founded Bean Path, a non-profit that provides tech guidance to individuals. Sephus is also currently working on the Jackson Tech District: 12 abandoned acres in Jackson, Mississippi that will house a tech hub community with a maker’s space, lab, photo studio, grocery store, apartments, and more. She speaks at NYLF Engineering, an Envision program.
Koch set the record for the single longest spaceflight by a woman–328 days. She was the flight engineer on three expeditions to the International Space Station and part of the historic all-female spacewalk. Looking to complete more firsts, Koch is currently part of Artemis, one of 18, who are working to land the first women and second man on the moon.
The Business Buffs
CEO of YouTube
Wojcicki has been involved in the tech world for over 20 years. Helping to found Google, she became their first marketing manager in 1999. Observing the growing success of YouTube as it started, she suggested Google purchase the video platform and has been its CEO since 2014. Wojcicki has helped the platform grow to serve two billion monthly users.
Founder & CEO of Bumble
Herd started her career as one of Tinder’s founders, a dating app. However, after experiencing sexual harassment in the male-dominated company, she left to co-found another dating app, Bumble—which was premised to put women in control of any new relationship conversation. Since then it has grown into a platform that encourages new friendships (hi, Bumble BFF!) and even business networking (nice to meet you, Bumble Bizz). Herd has not only empowered other women to have control over their social lives but also recently became the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire. Not bad!
CEO of Rosewood Hotel Group
The hotel business was part of her family history since 1978, but Cheng wanted to revamp Rosewood Hotel Group for a younger customer. She became CEO at age 30 in 2011 and since has been working hard to take Rosewood from a small company to a listed one. Cheng’s goal is to make each hotel feel like home and fit into its location through strategic décor. She’s managed to take a long-standing Chinese family tradition and modernize it for a new generation.