11 Women You Didn't Know Paved the Way

While many women have paved the way over the years, here are 11 of the lesser known women who have made a splash. From space, to science, to an array of awards, these women have done it all!

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TV's First Solo Female Anchor: Katie Couric

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Okay, so most people know who Katie Couric is, but you may not have known that her role as anchor of the CBS Evening News "ushered in a new era in television." She became TV's highest paid anchor at $15 million per year. 
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First Woman to Swim the English Channel: Gertrude Ederle

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"In 1926, 19-year old New Yorker Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel. She chose a day so rough that steamship trips were canceled. She not only completed the swim, but her time of 14 hours and 31 minutes broke a record that had stood for more than 50 years. A powerful swimmer, Ederle had won three Olympic medals and set 29 records before her channel adventure."

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First Woman in Space: Valentina Tereshkova

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The program that sent her to space was shrouded in secrecy, but proved a success. "Her flight lasted 48 orbits totaling 70 hours 50 minutes in space. She spent more time in orbit than all the U.S. Mercury astronauts combined."

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First Female Physician: Elizabeth Blackwell


Blackwell was rejected by almost every school she applied to. When her application arrived at Geneva Medical College the administration asked the students to decide her fate. "The students, reportedly believing it to be only a practical joke, endorsed her admission." She graduated first in her class.

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First Woman to Run for President: Victoria Woodhull

Yes, a woman ran for president as far back as 1872. Unfortunately, Woodhull's reputation for radicalism, as well as her part in a scandal involving noted preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, left her a less than ideal candidate. Over 140 years later the country is still waiting to see its first be elected.
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First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize: Marie Curie

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 As the "Mother of Modern Physics" and the woman who coined the term "radioactivity," this Nobel Laureate won prizes in two different scientific disciplines. She was one smart cookie.

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First Female Game Programmer and Designer: Carol Shaw

Image © Activision Publishing, Inc.

Computer programming has always been a primarily male dominated industry, but she broke through the wall in 1978 when she programmed and designed a video game, 3D Tic-Tac-Toe for the Atari 2600. She ranks on our list of 7 of the most important women in the history of video games.

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First Woman to Host the MTV Video Music Awards: Roseanne Barr

William S. Saturn/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain.

She was the first woman to host the MTV Video Music Awards in 1994... and was the only woman to do so until Chelsea Handler hosted in 2010. "During the final two seasons of Roseanne, Barr was the second highest paid woman in show business (after Oprah Winfrey), making $40 million."

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First African American Woman to Host the Academy Awards: Whoopi Goldberg

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Although hosting the Academy Awards is a great honor, this comedian is far more than that. Whoopi is a famed EGOT winner (meaning she has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award), and is one of only twelve people to have ever done so. 
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First to Win the Women's Marathon in the Olympics: Joan Benoit Samuelson

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The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics were the first to include a women's marathon, and Benoit was the winner. Not only had she had knee surgery 17 days before, she beat the reigning women's world champion, Grete Waitz.

After many years of service in the Army Nurse Corps, on July 9, 1947, General Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Florence Blanchfield to be a lieutenant colonel in the US Army. This made her the first woman in US history to hold permanent military rank. More »

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Spar, Jessica. "11 Women You Didn't Know Paved the Way." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2016, thoughtco.com/women-who-paved-the-way-3023296. Spar, Jessica. (2016, September 8). 11 Women You Didn't Know Paved the Way. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/women-who-paved-the-way-3023296 Spar, Jessica. "11 Women You Didn't Know Paved the Way." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/women-who-paved-the-way-3023296 (accessed November 24, 2017).