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 Satirist

Samantha Bee

First woman to host a late-night satire show

The Satirist

Parker Day for TIME

The Portraitist

Amy Sherald

First black woman to paint an official First Lady portrait

The Portraitist

Jody Rogac for TIME

The CEO

Beth Ford

First openly gay woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company

The CEO

Simone Lueck for TIME

The Playwright

Young Jean Lee

First Asian-American woman to write a play produced on Broadway

The Playwright

June Canedo for TIME

The Skier

Lindsey Vonn

First American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in downhill skiing

The Skier

Kendrick Brinson for TIME

The Trader

Stacey Cunningham

First woman to become president of the New York Stock Exchange

The Trader

Adrienne Grunwald for TIME

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. and, as of November 2018, the first woman to receive three 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 and, as of November 2018, the first Somali American elected to the U.S. Congress

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 Oceanographer

Sylvia Earle

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

Interview

‘Men and women living underwater together wasn’t going to fly.’

The first time I went underwater, I was 3 years old, and I was knocked over by a wave. The ocean got my attention. Years later I had a chance to breathe compressed air underwater, through a copper diving helmet. Our next-door neighbor in Florida was a sponge diver, and my older brother and the sponge diver’s son conspired to “borrow” the equipment: the helmet, a compressor and a hose that connected the compressed air. I just wore a bathing suit and went barefoot, so my feet kept floating up. That was my first experience. A year later, in 1953, I used scuba for the first time, with two words of instruction: “Breathe naturally.” It was glorious—I could get acquainted with the fish and be free of any connection to the surface. It was like flying. What I love about the ocean is you never know whom you’re going to see or what you’re going to do, but it’s always going to be good. It’s always going to be a thrill.

When I was in high school, science was not a particularly attractive field for many young women. It seemed like a guy thing, but I loved it. I wanted to be an ecologist, somebody who looked at how the whole system works. When I began college, I was often the only woman in a class.

I came along at a time when women were just beginning to be accepted as competent scientists and engineers. Having women on ships was not a particularly welcomed thing. The U.S. Navy took a long time to allow women. Now there are women captains, and you finally see the idea of brain over brawn, even on commercial ships. It was and is about, Can you do the job? Are you able? Can you handle this machinery? But that wasn’t always the way.

The cultural bias is what it is. Men and women are different, and the society of men as leaders has predominated the society in which I came along. It’s still very much there, but it’s getting better. Women are every bit as intellectually competent as our male counterparts.

On one of my first oceanographic expeditions, in 1964, I did not yet have my Ph.D. (In fact, it took me 10 years to earn a Ph.D. because I got married and had two of my three children along the way.) I was the only woman with 70 men for six weeks at sea in the Indian Ocean. I had never been west of the Mississippi River before I went halfway around the world to the Indian Ocean. But then the headline on an interview I did, which ran in the Mombasa Daily Times, was “Sylvia Sails Away With 70 Men. But She Expects No Problems.” It was my first real interaction with the press. I don’t know what problems they thought I might have. To my mind the goals were: keep a sense of humor; don’t expect favors; do what you’re there to do as a scientist. In an atmosphere where other people may expect you to be treated differently, you try not to be treated differently. I took being a scientist very seriously. I still do.

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

Later, I was a scientist at Harvard when I noticed a paper on the bulletin board asking if anyone would be interested in living underwater as a scientist for two weeks in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The idea was to come up with a project that would be reviewed by scientists at the Smithsonian Institution and sponsored by the Department of the Interior. No mention was made about having to be a guy, but it was clear that no one expected women to apply. But some of us did. And the rest is history, if you will.

The idea of men and women living underwater together wasn’t going to fly, but they allowed us to have a women’s team, and I was the leader. That put me in the hot seat again. We attracted attention from all around the world. The men who did this, they were called aquanauts. 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.

We had a wonderful time. We spent a lot of time in water, day and night. I’d been diving, of course. I had more than 1,000 hours at that point, but just in and out—20 minutes or sometimes only five or 10 minutes at a time. Here we had 24 hours a day for two weeks, in and out at our will. Once we were underwater, it was just freedom. We wanted to be out there getting acquainted with the fish on their terms.

People asked us all kinds of silly questions—Did we use a hair dryer? Did we wear lipstick?—but we used that opening to explain the nature of the ocean: how beautiful it is, how vulnerable it is. How, even back then, there was evidence that what we were doing to it was causing problems. It wasn’t pristine—there had already been a reduction in some of the fish that we would normally see on a coral reef, for example—but compared with today, it was glorious because of the variety. Today 90% of many of those fish are just gone.

Our time down there was breathtaking. It was just beautiful. The fish weren’t afraid of us, even though they’d seen primates in the water before—people there to spear them, for instance. But we weren’t there to kill them, so with us, when we behaved ourselves and treated them the way they liked to be treated, with dignity and respect, they were friendly. The fish were curious about us. That’s when I thought, Do unto the fish as you would have fish do unto you.

And when you treat them like that, it’s amazing what you can see. It’s true when you deal with humans that way too.

Earle is president and chair of Mission Blue, an organization that advocates for legal protection and conservation of the world’s oceans.

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