Naomi Osaka. The women who paved the way for Kamala D. Harris. Rebecca Wright. Inez Milholland. Henrietta Wood. Rita Moreno. U.S. women’s soccer team. Lady Bird Johnson. Sen. Susan Collins. Isabel Allende. Margaret Bourke-White. Maria Anna Mozart. Rep. Elise Stefanik. Cecilia Chiang. Virginia Hall. Dolores Huerta. Ronna McDaniel. Katherine Johnson. Marisol Escobar. Iman Khateb Yassin. Pnina Tamano-Shatta. Omer Yankelevitch. Gadeer Kamal Mreeh. Barbara Bush. Opha May Johnson. Florence Thorne. Margaret Scattergood. Claressa Shields. The Deltas. Fannie Lou Hamer. Jill Biden. Mya Kretzer. Nora Ephron. Cicely Tyson. Alberta Jones. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mechelle Vinson. Rep. Alice Robertson. Rep. Winnifred Huck. Rep. Mae Nolan. Lara Maiklem. Lavinia Fontana. Sofonisba Anguissola. Ava DuVernay. Carry A. Nation. Michelle Obama. Kato Pipia. Jeannette Rankin.
Celebrating female leaders
Illustration by Hope Meng for The Washington Post
It has been a tough year for women. Millions have lost jobs. Others are contending with shuttered schools, an ever-increasing domestic workload and a to-do list that never ends.
Women’s History Month arrives one year into the pandemic — at a moment when female workforce participation has dipped to 57 percent, the lowest it has been in more than three decades. To mark the occasion, The Washington Post has gathered stories of women who have faced challenges and triumphed.
A team that sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination.
An activist who fought for the rights and lives of farmworkers.
A politician who considered 231 years of male vice presidents and thought: “I will be next.”
Some of these women have familiar names. Others have made a difference away from the limelight. Each one has a story to celebrate.
Since her arrival in 2008, she has built a women’s basketball dynasty on Southern football turf, making nine straight NCAA tournament appearances, capturing six conference tournament championships and winning the national title in 2017. This season, most of the players had been sitting during the national anthem and her team’s efforts to shed light on systemic racism have led her to joust with fans on Twitter. “I say what’s on my mind. I can’t not do it.” | By Candace Buckner
As a nurse at an intensive care unit in New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Montanaro, like so many health-care workers, found herself at the center of the chaos when the coronavirus hit the U.S. Podcast: Montanaro reflects on a year on the front lines and battling exhaustion and grief in her ICU.
Diane von Furstenberg
The fashion designer and philanthropist created the iconic wrap dress in 1974, which became a symbol of power and independence for women and grew into a global brand. She has used her experience to support and empower emerging female leaders across the globe. Washington Post Live: “You own your imperfections; they become your assets. You own your vulnerability; it turns into your strength.”
‘I became an icon. Now I want to be an oracle:’ Diane von Furstenberg is setting lofty new goals for the future.
The first female Cabinet secretary in U.S. history: Perkins was the chief architect of much of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. She had a vision for what it could be: a public works initiative to put people back to work, a minimum wage, old-age insurance and an end to child labor. | By Ronald G. Shafer
Osaka, 23, defeated Serena Williams in the Australian Open semifinal and Jennifer Brady in the final to become a four-time Grand Slam winner Feb. 20. Perspective: It took the trailblazing efforts of the Williams sisters, two African American girls from Compton, to create a pathway for Osaka — who is Haitian and Japanese — to feel comfortable bringing her own flavor to the sport. | By Jerry Brewer
The women who paved the way for Kamala D. Harris
Throughout America’s history, Black women have fought for civil rights and women’s rights, often at great personal risk. Their work paved the way for Harris, the first female, first Black and first Asian American vice president. Harris is, to her supporters, the long-awaited torchbearer for centuries of women, people of color and others whose ambitions were denied and who never saw themselves reflected in the nation’s leadership before. | By Chelsea Janes
Readers wrote to Vice President Harris ahead of the inauguration.
Perspective: The sound of a shifting power structure
Nasr never presumed there were spaces in which she didn’t belong or might be unwelcome. She plowed ahead, from Allure to Vogue and elsewhere. Now, Nasr is the first person of color appointed editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar in the magazine’s 154-year history. Her version of Bazaar considers a reader’s interest in fashion in the context of a broader intellectual curiosity. Fashion is a tool for building an identity, and you don’t toss out bits of your identity from one season to the next. | By Robin Givhan
Wright, 18, is part of the inaugural class of young women to become Eagle Scouts. As the highest honor available within the Boy Scouts of America, it’s one that was traditionally reserved exclusively for young men and boys. Then in 2017, BSA announced that young women would be permitted to participate in a wider array of the organization’s programs. | By Lateshia Beachum
An icon who persevered: Milholland was a 26-year-old lawyer in 1913 when she was chosen to lead a parade of suffragists on Pennsylvania Avenue atop a white horse. But she didn’t live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment. | By Diane Bernard
Things you didn’t know (or maybe forgot) about how women got the vote
Mills is the celebrity every YouTuber wants to be. She is YouTube’s version of an auteur — one who has learned from watching the previous generation of online stars. She is both the Ferris Bueller and John Hughes of her own world: Each video feels like an entire movie, written, directed, edited and marketed by and starring Mills. Taken together, the videos also tell a coming-of-age story, one that parallels her own life. | By Abby Ohlheiser
After the Civil War, Wood made history by pursuing an audacious lawsuit against the man who had kidnapped her back into slavery. She won, becoming the recipient of the largest known sum paid out in restitution for slavery by the U.S. courts. Her descendants never knew. | By Sydney Trent
17 newly elected Republican women
The GOP made history when a record number of female lawmakers were elected to Congress in 2020 and helped to chip away at the Democratic majority in the House. Their success reflects the GOP’s major shift on recruiting and supporting female candidates. | By Rachael Bade
Nosrat breaks the mold: Most travel food shows are about White male discovery. And most home cooking shows are about White female domesticity. Nosrat gently rejects all of that. One of the extraordinary things about “Salt Fat Acid Heat” is how many women appear in the show. They are there as friends and cultural guides for Nosrat, or they’re the faces of successful artisanal food businesses. Or they’re elderly home cooks, eager for the chance to reveal their secrets. | By Maura Judkis
Harjo is the 23rd poet laureate of the United States. A member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, she is the first Native American to hold the position. “Everyone wants a place where they feel safe.” | By Joe Heim
31 historical moments influenced by women
The Puerto Rican actress’s career spans seven decades, and she is a rare holder of the EGOT, winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award. At every stage, she has required fortitude, a fierce desire to create opportunities for herself and a willingness to take on just about anything. | By Peter Marks
Washington Post Live: Breaking Barriers with Rita Moreno
U.S. women’s soccer team
The players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, drawing attention to the pay gap between the men’s and women’s national teams. Fans of all ages couldn’t help but take notice. The U.S. women’s soccer team’s battle for equality transcended sports. | By Rick Maese and Ava Wallace
Video: An oral history of the U.S. women’s national team’s 2019 World Cup title
Soccer star Megan Rapinoe: ‘People underestimate their own individual ability to change the world’
Lady Bird Johnson
A first lady narrates her role in history: Johnson recorded 132 hours of audio diaries, documenting the campaign and presidency. Aides provided copies of her and Johnson’s calendars, as well as newspaper clippings, seating charts from White House events and copies of speeches. She also relied on handwritten notes that she continued to take in small reporter-type notebooks. | By Michael S. Rosenwald
Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel laureate ever in 2014. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting to protect girls’ education in her home country of Pakistan and in 2013, she launched the Malala Fund, a nonprofit organization aimed at increasing girls’ access to education. | By Lena Felton
What does life look like for teenage girls around the world?
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Collins has spent 24 years in the Senate. She boasts about having the second-longest consecutive voting record in the Senate, having not missed a vote since her 1997 swearing-in. | By Jada Yuan
The Chilean author has written historical novels and children’s books. In 1996, she started the Isabel Allende Foundation in memory of her daughter, Paula, to finance women’s health and social justice projects in places such as Nepal and India. This is Allende — the 5-foot melodramatic diva of magical feminism. | By Emily Wax
Anna Mae Hays
Hays guided the Army Nurse Corps through the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War and became the first female general in American military history. She also helped push through Army policy changes that paved the way for women in the military, including the 1970 establishment of maternity leave for female officers. | By Harrison Smith
During its heyday from 1936 to 1972, Life magazine employed 101 photographers in total. Only six full-time photographers were women. Bourke-White shot the cover photo for the Nov. 23, 1936, inaugural issue of Life. How 6 female photojournalists saw the world. | By Jane Levere
Maria Anna Mozart
History remembers Wolfgang Mozart. But his sister was a genius, too. She performed on the harpsichord and toured with her brother when they were both young. At age 12, she was called one of the best musicians in Europe. | By Janice Kaplan
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)
When she was first won her House seat in 2014, Stefanik was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The Harvard graduate is a centrist on policy issues and has since compiled one of the Hill’s most bipartisan records. | By Griff Witte
The grand dame of Chinese cooking in America: Her legendary San Francisco restaurant, the Mandarin, introduced generations of Americans to authentic Chinese provincial cooking. For decades, the restaurant was a magnet for tourists, chefs and celebrities. | By Tim Carman
A Maryland-born operative with a wooden leg and a sobriquet, “The Limping Lady,” Hall was considered one of the most effective Allied spies leading the French resistance. She organized agent networks, assisted escaped POWs, and recruited French men and women to run safe houses. | By Ian Shapira
Huerta rose to prominence as an organizer, labor leader and civil rights activist in California. In 1962, she and Cesar Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association (now United Farm Workers), through which they led boycotts and negotiated better conditions and pay for farmworkers. Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. | By KK Ottesen
One of the longest-serving GOP chairs in history, she was unanimously reelected chairwoman without opposition at the RNC’s convention in January. McDaniel, the granddaughter of George Romney and niece of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, has tried to establish her own identity. Now she is tasked with helping the party find its way after Donald Trump’s presidency. | By Josh Dawsey and Manuel Roig-Franzia
She was not the first Black woman to work as a NASA mathematician, nor the first to write a research report for the agency, but Johnson was eventually recognized as a pathbreaker for women and African Americans in the newly created field of spaceflight. Johnson began working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1953, and she developed equations that helped the NACA and its successor, NASA, send astronauts into orbit and, later, to the moon. | By Harrison Smith
She went simply by “Marisol.” Born in Paris to Venezuelan parents, Marisol was a sculptor big in the ’60s, a key figure at the beginning of pop art. These women are some of America’s greatest artists. | By Sebastian Smee
Iman Khateb Yassin, Pnina Tamano-Shatta, Omer Yankelevitch and Gadeer Kamal Mreeh
Thirty-three of the Israeli parliament’s 120 members are women. While this is not the most ever, the number includes some impressive firsts: the first Ethiopian-born Knesset member to become a government minister, the first female ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmaker and minister, the first female Knesset member from the Druze religious community, and the first to wear a Muslim hijab. Yassin, Tamano-Shatta, Yankelevitch and Mreeh have overcome daunting barriers to become groundbreaking members of Israel’s parliament. | By Ruth Eglash
As the matriarch of one of America’s political dynasties, Bush spent a half-century in the public eye. She was portrayed as the consummate wife and homemaker as her husband rose from Texas oilman to commander in chief. They had six children, the eldest of whom, George W. Bush, became president. | By Lois Romano
Podcast: Barbara Bush’s remarkable commencement address
Opha May Johnson
In 1918, she couldn’t vote but rushed to serve. It was close to the end of World War I when the Marine Corps decided to fill some of the gaps left behind by all the men fighting overseas. In 1918, Johnson was the first of 300 women who showed up to take one of those jobs. | By Petula Dvorak
Florence Thorne and Margaret Scattergood
In 1933, two rebellious women bought a home in Virginia’s woods. Then the CIA moved in. Labor activists and longtime companions Thorne and Scattergood spent decades living on the grounds of the secretive agency. | By Jessica Contrera and Gillian Brockell
Shields keeps winning boxing titles. But the two-time Olympic gold medalist is still fighting for more exposure for women’s boxing. | By Liz Clarke
The Deltas helped pave the way for African American women in politics. Their participation in the 1913 suffrage parade has become a touchstone for the sorority, which now claims 300,000 members. The Deltas run voter registration drives, battle for access to the voting booth, serve as poll workers and train women to run for office. | By Sydney Trent
Podcast: Black women had to keep fighting for the right to vote even after the 19th Amendment passed
Fannie Lou Hamer
The founder of the Mississippi Freedom Party remains one of the most compelling figures of the civil rights movement. President Lyndon B. Johnson was terrified of her, terrified of the appeal she would make in 1964 before the Democratic National Committee’s credentials panel on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. | By DeNeen L. Brown
Podcast: The civil rights crusader rivaled Martin Luther King Jr. in her command of audiences.
Biden had two major roles during her eight years as second lady. One was being the vice president’s wife, performed, for instance, on diplomatic trips abroad. The other was teaching English. And she’ll do it all again as first lady. The first lady’s former students share stories about life in her classroom. | By Lauren Lumpkin
Female athletes are speaking out, demanding a more level playing field with their male counterparts even as they continue to train and excel in their sports. In Kansas, girls didn’t have a wrestling championship of their own. Kretzer changed that. | By Liz Clarke
Deep Throat’s identity was a mystery for decades. Ephron told everyone who the anonymous source for Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate scoops was for years before he outed himself. And she was right. | By Gillian Brockell
At the height of Blaxploitation, Tyson turned down more roles than she accepted, making her living delivering speeches on college campuses. Keenly aware of her power as a symbol and a role model, she was adamant that her roles perpetuate healthy, positive images. Perspective: Tyson embodied what it takes to be a great actor: Instinct and intention. | By Ann Hornaday
Jones was the first woman to become a prosecutor in Louisville. She was killed in 1965, and the murder of the 34-year-old civil rights pioneer, who integrated the University of Louisville, was never solved. | By DeNeen L. Brown
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ginsburg was a legal pioneer, successfully arguing cases battling for gender equality while working with the ACLU. In 1993, she became the second woman on the Supreme Court. On the court, some of her most notable votes sought to enhance the rights of women as well as protect affirmative action and minority voting rights. Photos: The life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg | By Post Staff
Ginsburg could be honored with a monument at the U.S. Capitol
Vinson had been fired from her job at Capital City Federal Savings Bank in Northeast Washington when she filed her lawsuit in 1978. The case, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, was the first of its kind to reach the Supreme Court and the landmark decision helped redefine the workplace for women. | By DeNeen L. Brown
Reps. Alice Robertson (R-Okla.), Winnifred Huck (R-Ill.) and Mae Nolan (R-Calif.)
A hundred years ago, these congresswomen broke barriers. As Congress’s cardinal “Woman’s Bloc,” Robertson, Huck and Nolan set the tone for the next century of female political participation through their work on issues including child labor, wage equality, Native American welfare, veteran relief and progressive taxation. | By Cornelia Powers
Stories of congresswomen to the right and center
The hobbyist archaeologist has spent 15 years of low tides as a devoted member of a secretive, alternatively competitive and generous, obsessive tribe known as the mudlarks. They are on a quest for castoff history: a tooth scraper from the 18th century, a cut of Spanish glass or tin tokens from the time of King James II in the late 1600s, sold to support the failing plantations in America. Maiklem has found them all. | By William Booth
Lavinia Fontana and Sofonisba Anguissola
Born in 16th century Italy about 20 years apart, Fontana and Anguissola learned to paint and earned widespread acclaim for their work. For over a century, these female Renaissance painters remained in obscurity, ignored by many historians and unknown to the general public. Anguissola’s works were even misattributed to male artists. Now their legacy is back on the rise. | By Nneka McGuire
DuVernay is the award-winning Black female director of movies including “Selma,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and “When They See Us.” Even as her résumé grows, the work is hard to isolate from the larger vision. DuVernay hires only women to direct “Queen Sugar” episodes, and her company, Array, distributes films by women and people of color while also building community through screenings and digital campaigns. | By Geoff Edgers
Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Ava DuVernay in conversation.
Washington Post Live: Giving Voice with Ava DuVernay
Carry A. Nation
The face of the female fight for Prohibition, Nation became famous worldwide for demolishing illegal saloons with rocks, bricks and hatchets. In truth, Nation was a determined, passionate and devout woman, who was increasingly angry and impatient at the way illegal saloons encouraged drunkenness in her home state. | By Karen Blumenthal
The heart of the former first lady’s efforts was a message about the country’s persistent inequities of race, class and gender. And she used the strength of her own Chicago-to-Princeton-to-the-White-House narrative to urge kids to believe in themselves and never quit. | By Peter Slevin
Michelle Obama launches a Netflix cooking show for kids
A new generation chases “Queen’s Gambit” glory: For decades, women from Georgia reached the heights of the chess world. In October, 17-year-old Pipia won the World Schools Championship, held with students from 37 countries. | By Inna Lazareva
Vera Menchik astonished the chess world by taking down male opponents in the 1920s and ’30s.
Rep. Jeannette Rankin (R-Mont.)
President Woodrow Wilson had asked for a declaration of war against Germany. Rankin, the first woman to be elected to Congress and to any national legislature in the world, faced an agonizing choice. Rankin was one of 50 members who voted against entering World War I, but hers was the vote everyone remembered. | By Will Englund
Podcast: The first congresswoman’s vote