Special Report

Women Who Broke Barriers Every Year Since 1950

Source: PredragImages / Getty Images

1950: Marion Donovan
> Category: Inventions

Marion Donovan invented the first disposable diaper. She patented it in 1951. Donovan had been rebuffed by companies run by men, so she sold the diapers directly to retailers.

Source: David McNew / Getty Images

1951: Lucille Ball
> Category: Entertainment

Zany comedian Lucille Ball was a television innovator who broke barriers. Her show featured an inter-ethnic marriage (to Cuba-American singer Desi Arnaz) that was not widely accepted at the time. Ball eventually became the first woman to own a studio.

Source: cizauskas / Flickr

1952: Ella Baker
> Category: Activism

Ella Baker was a civil rights figure who became the first woman to lead the New York chapter of the NAACP. Baker was also one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

Source: FPG / Getty Images

1953: Jacqueline Cochran
> Category: Science

Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier when she piloted an F-86 plane.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

1954: Jewel L. Prestage
> Category: Education

Jewel L. Prestage became the first African-American woman to get a doctorate in political science, which she received from the University of Iowa.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1955: Rosa Parks
> Category: Activism

Rosa Parks played a key role in the civil rights movement when she refused to give up a seat on a bus to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama. This led to the Montgomery bus boycott and integration of buses.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1956: Autherine Lucy
> Category: Education

Autherine Lucy endured physical and verbal abuse to become the first African-American woman to attend the University of Alabama.

Source: Courtesy of Lamont -Doherty Earth Observatory

1957: Marie Tharp
> Category: Science

Marie Tharp helped create the first map of the floor of the North Atlantic was published in 1957. Because she was a woman, Tharp was not allowed on research vessels, so she worked as a cartographer on land and helped outline the ocean floor by using data collected by her partner, Bruce Heezen.

Source: NASA Image and Video Library / Wikimedia Commons

1958: Mary Winston Jackson
> Category: Science

Mary Winston Jackson was the first African-American female engineer at NASA. She was portrayed by actress Janelle Monáe in the motion picture “Hidden Figures.”

Source: marines.mil / Wikimedia Commons

1959: Arlene Pieper
> Category: Sports

Arlene Pieper ran the Pikes Peak Marathon in 1959, the first woman to complete any marathon in the United States. She ran up and then down the 14,115-foot Colorado mountain.