A
Special Project
WOMEN WHO ARE CHANGING THE WORLD
Presented By

Videos by Spencer Bakalar and Diane Tsai

Photographs by Luisa Dörr

‘She broke the glass ceiling.’

What a jagged image we use for women who achieve greatly, defining accomplishment in terms of the barrier rather than the triumph. There she is up where the air is thin, where men still outnumber women, but where the altitude is awesome. Our goal with Firsts, which we will continue to update as new barriers are broken, is for every woman and girl to find someone whose presence in the highest reaches of success says to her that it is safe to climb, come on up, the view is spectacular.View Full List

The Writer

Lena Waithe

First black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series

The Writer

Heather Sten for TIME

The Model

Halima Aden

First hijab-wearing fashion model to walk international runway shows

The Model

Dafy Hagai for TIME

The Lawmaker

Danica Roem

First openly transgender woman to be elected to and seated in a U.S. state legislature

The Lawmaker

Susan Worsham for TIME

The Restaurateur

Dominique Crenn

First woman to receive two Michelin stars in the U.S.

The Restaurateur

Molly Matalon for TIME

The Cadet

Simone Askew

First black woman to lead the Corps of Cadets at West Point

The Cadet

Molly Matalon for TIME

The Cinematographer

Rachel Morrison

First woman to be nominated for an Oscar in Cinematography

The Cinematographer

Joyce Kim for TIME

The Groundbreaker

Damyanti Gupta

First female engineer with an advanced degree at Ford Motor Company

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The Groundbreaker

The Nominee

Hillary Rodham Clinton

First woman to win a major party’s nomination for President

The Nominee

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Titan

Oprah Winfrey

First woman to own and produce her own talk show

The Titan

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Tastemaker

Selena Gomez

First person to reach 100 million followers on Instagram

The Tastemaker

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Pro

Serena Williams

First tennis player to win 23 Grand Slam singles titles in the open era

The Pro

Luisa Dörr for TIME

‘There is plenty of room in the world for mediocre men, but there is no room for mediocre women.’

Madeleine Albright

The Diplomat

Madeleine Albright

First woman to become U.S. Secretary of State

The Diplomat

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Setbacks

15 women on sexism and double standards

The Auteur

Issa Rae

First black woman to create and star in a premium cable series

The Auteur

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Leader

Nikki Haley

First Indian-American woman to be elected governor

The Leader

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Actor

Rita Moreno

First Latina to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony

The Actor

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Singer

Aretha Franklin

First woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Singer

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Mogul

Sheryl Sandberg

First woman to become a social-media billionaire

The Mogul

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Commander

Lori Robinson

First woman to lead a top-tier U.S. Combat Command

The Commander

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Showrunner

Shonda Rhimes

First woman to create three hit shows with more than 100 episodes each

The Showrunner

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Chef

Alice Waters

First woman to win the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef

The Chef

The Driver

Danica Patrick

First woman to lead in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500

The Driver

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Animator

Jennifer Yuh Nelson

First woman to solo-direct a major Hollywood animated feature

The Animator

Luisa Dörr for TIME

‘I said to my dad, “This doesn’t look like the America you promised.”’

Ilhan Omar

The Legislator

Ilhan Omar

First Somali-American Muslim person to become a legislator

The Legislator

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Motivations

14 women on how they stay inspired

The Senator

Mazie Hirono

First Asian-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate

The Senator

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Artist

Cindy Sherman

First woman to break $1 million in a photography sale

The Artist

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Pitcher

Mo'ne Davis

First girl to pitch a shutout and win a game in a Little League World Series

The Pitcher

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Boss

Mary Barra

First woman to become CEO of a major car company

The Boss

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Journalist

Barbara Walters

First woman to co-anchor a network evening news program

The Journalist

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

First woman to become Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

The Speaker

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Astronaut

Mae Jemison

First woman of color in space

The Astronaut

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Lawyer

Loretta Lynch

First black woman to become U.S. Attorney General

The Lawyer

Luisa Dörr for TIME

‘I’m bolstered by folks who create their own ceilings.’

Ava DuVernay

The Director

Ava DuVernay

First black woman to direct a film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar

The Director

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Families

8 women on the balancing act

‘The women, we were aqua-babes, aqua-chicks, aqua-naughties. But we didn’t care what they called us, as long as we had a chance to go.’

Sylvia Earle

The Oceanographer

Sylvia Earle

First woman to become chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Oceanographer

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Executive

Ursula Burns

First black woman to run a Fortune 500 company

The Executive

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Comedian

Ellen DeGeneres

First person to star as an openly gay character on prime-time TV

The Comedian

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Bishop

Katharine Jefferts Schori

First woman to be elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church

The Bishop

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The General

Ann Dunwoody

First woman to rise to four-star general in the U.S. military

The General

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Scientist

Elizabeth Blackburn

First woman to become president of the Salk Institute

The Scientist

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Philanthropist

Melinda Gates

First woman to give away more than $40 billion

The Philanthropist

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Inventor

Patricia Bath

First person to invent and demonstrate laserphaco cataract surgery

The Inventor

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Pilot

Eileen Collins

First woman to command a space shuttle

The Pilot

Luisa Dörr for TIME

‘Being the first always creates a pressure that you don’t want to be the last.’

Rachel Maddow

The Anchor

Rachel Maddow

First openly gay anchor to host a prime-time news program

The Anchor

Photograph by Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Histories

19 women on the people who shaped them

‘Raising hackles means you’re not being ignored; you’re pushing the conversation forward.’

Rita Dove

The Poet

Rita Dove

First black U.S. poet laureate

The Poet

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Adviser

Kellyanne Conway

First woman to run a winning presidential campaign

The Adviser

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Gymnast

Gabby Douglas

First American gymnast to win solo and team all-around gold medals at one Olympics

The Gymnast

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Chair

Janet Yellen

First woman to chair the Federal Reserve

The Chair

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Sculptor

Maya Lin

First woman to design a memorial on the National Mall

The Sculptor

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Engineer

Geisha Williams

First Latina CEO of a Fortune 500 company

The Engineer

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Entrepreneur

Michelle Phan

First woman to build a $500 million company from a web series

The Entrepreneur

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Coach

Kathryn Smith

First woman to become a full-time coach in the NFL

The Coach

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Librarian

Carla Hayden

First woman and first African American to be Librarian of Congress

The Librarian

Luisa Dörr for TIME

‘It was like I could breathe for the first time in my life.’

Candis Cayne

The Performer

Candis Cayne

First transgender woman with a major role on prime-time TV

The Performer

Luisa Dörr for TIME

The Ceiling

12 women on shattering the glass

‘The notion that women might menstruate in orbit drove the whole place up the wall.’

Kathryn Sullivan

The Explorer

Kathryn Sullivan

First American woman to walk in space

The Explorer

Luisa Dörr for TIME

Presented By

The Comedian

Ellen DeGeneres

First person to star as an openly gay character on prime-time TV

Interview

‘I wouldn’t change anything, including the way I came out.’

When I first started doing stand-up, I was writing from the perspective of a human being, observing how we all act—it had nothing to do with a female perspective. It was just a human one. I don’t know if that’s because I’m gay and I just didn’t really identify with men and women being so different, but I didn’t consciously think, I’m not doing female material.

Comedy is a very political world. You’re supposed to work your way up, especially in San Francisco. There was one night in particular when I was the headliner. I had just moved there and had just been named Showtime’s “Funniest Person in America.” There were two guys opening for me who were angry that I was headlining and had been on Showtime. No one knew that I was gay necessarily. But their stuff was very homophobic, and it slammed women in every kind of way. By the time I got onstage, it was a very angry, testosterone-filled crowd. And I just bombed. I was doing a phone call to God. God’s talking, and I’m listening—there are spaces for people to yell out. The entire front row of guys turned their chairs around and faced the audience. Every-one laughed. The whole audience was against me. So I walked off the stage.

One of the guys came back onstage and said, “That was the funniest person in America, ladies and gentlemen, the funniest per—” He kept saying it over and over. It was a horrible, horrible night, a night when I thought I would never do comedy again. I don’t know where those guys are now, but they didn’t get the Medal of Freedom.

I didn’t really come into my own power and understanding of who I am until probably the last 10 years. I was very shy. I was insecure. I needed to feel liked and loved, which is why most people go into this business. I wasn’t ever motivated to say, “I’ll show them.” I kept doing comedy out of love—when it works, there’s nothing better than making people laugh. There’s no better feeling.

Firsts Women Who Are Changing the World Ellen Degeneres Time Magazine Cover
Photograph by Luisa Dörr for TIME

Everything in my life is exactly perfect in the good things, and especially in the bad things—they made me who I am, and they’ve made me a more compassionate person. So I wouldn’t change anything in my life, including the way I came out. I was carrying this fear around that if people found out that I was gay, I would lose everything. I didn’t want to have a secret. Straight people don’t say, “My private business is my private business.” They don’t not answer the question. There was something wrong that I was so filled with shame about my sexuality.

When I came out, it made sense that the character on my sitcom Ellen would come out too. I thought it was a really interesting story to tell. To have Laura Dern play my girlfriend, and to have Oprah Winfrey be my therapist. I made a call to Oprah and said, “I’m going to come out on my show. Would you please play my therapist?” It was the greatest thing in the world. It was everything that I wanted it to be, as far as the way the show turned out. And it was everything that I feared that it would be, which is that I would lose my show and my career. And it was also the greatest thing that could have happened, because it sent me on a different trajectory, and here I am now.

Everybody said, “You’ll destroy this whole show.” And I was like, “Yeah, but it’s my life.” I was warned by my publicist at the time. I was warned by Disney. I was warned by everybody. But there’s nothing better than realizing that everybody knows exactly who I am. I wasn’t trying to be political. I wasn’t trying to do anything other than get that out of the way so I didn’t have to worry about hiding.

It was a long process trying to sell [my current] show. There were station managers who thought, No one’s going to watch a gay woman in daytime because everyone at home is a housewife with kids. But then we did sell it. To be sitting here 14 years later…I wouldn’t have believed it. All I did was get back to what I started out doing, which is wanting to make people happy.

DeGeneres, an Emmy-winning TV host and comedian, has hosted her eponymous talk show since 2003.

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