International Women's Day: Nine women who achieved amazing firsts

By Pete Madeley | In-depth | Published:

International Women’s Day has arrived – a worldwide event that celebrates women’s many achievements while calling for gender equality.

Women from different fields who smashed the glass ceiling to do something incredible

This year it is particularly important as 2018 also marks the centenary of (some) women being granted the vote in the UK.

With that in mind, it is the prefect time to take a look at some of the most iconic women from history.

We're talking about women who pushed major boundaries despite facing far greater obstacles to reach their goals than their male peers.

Here are nine particularly pioneering ladies from a range of different fields and professions, who smashed the glass ceiling to do something incredible.

1. Marie Curie

In 1903 Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize – in Physics, following her research into radiation.

Initially, only her two male research partners were nominated, and it was only when one of them (her husband, Pierre) complained that her name was added.

Curie went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 for discovering the elements radium and polonium.


This made her the first person in history to win two Nobel Prizes and the only person to ever win the award in two different sciences.

2. Nancy Astor

While Margaret Thatcher might have been the UK's first female prime minister, there were women who came before her that helped pave the way.

One of these was Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit in Parliament.


While she wasn't the first woman to be elected – that was Constance Markievicz, who refused the position in protest of the Government's dealings in Ireland – she was the first to take up the seat in 1919.

3. Gertrude Ederle

American Ederle was the first woman to swim the English Channel.

She did it on her second attempt on August 6, 1926, and it took 14 hours and 34 minutes for her to complete. At the time only five men had done it before her.

4. Amelia Earhart

'Queen of the Air' Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1928 – just a year behind Charles Lindbergh, the first person ever to do so.

She also became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California, among many other achievements, and spent much of her career campaigning for women's rights.

Sadly, Earhart disappeared in 1937 while on an expedition to circumnavigate the globe.

5. Valentina Tereshkova

On June 16, 1963, Tereshkova became the first woman in space, aged just 26

The trip on Vostok 6 saw her orbit Earth 48 times, and she was in space for over 70 hours.

Tereshkova carried the Olympic torch in 2008 and 2014, and remains the only woman to have ever been on a solo space mission.

6. Aretha Franklin

In 1987, Aretha became the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Buddy Holly, James Brown and Elvis Presley.

It helped solidify her reputation as the Queen of Soul, and Franklin went on to become one of the most decorated Grammy artists in history, clocking up 18 awards.

7. Kathryn Bigelow

As of this year, only five women have ever been nominated for the Best Director Oscar – and so against these odds, Kathryn Bigelow's win in 2010 was incredibly impressive.

The Hurt Locker, a low-budget movie set during the Iraq war, scooped the gongs for both Best Picture and Best Director.

Bigelow remains the only female winner.

8. Maya Angelou

The legendary poet and award-winning author is probably best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

It made history as the first non-fiction bestseller by a black woman.

She won numerous accolades for her books, poetry, acting and essays over the years. Angelou also worked as a dancer, actress, director and screenwriter after a tough childhood of sexual abuse and racial prejudice.

9. Libby Lane

The Church is traditionally quite set on gender roles, and yet Libby Lane managed to break conventions by becoming the first female consecrated bishop in the Church of England.

Her appointment was only made possible by the Church's General Synod voting in 2014 in favour of allowing women to become bishops. Lane was consecrated at York Minster in January 2015.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.


Top Stories


More from the Express & Star

UK & International News