International Women’s Day 2022: Trailblazers Who Have Made History and Pressed for Progress

Cathay Williams and Sally Ride are among the many women trailblazers in the U.S.
U.S. Army; NASA

These are the women who fought for change by striking out on their own path.

Monday marks International Women’s Day, an annual commemoration of women, civil awareness, anti-sexism and anti-discrimination.

The day’s campaign theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. 

"Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead," the International Women's Day website says. "Knowing that bias exists isn't enough. Action is needed to level the playing field."

The day is one of the most important days of the year to celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness about women's equality, lobby for accelerated gender parity and fundraise for female-focused charities, the site says. 

The first National Women's Day was celebrated on Feb. 28, 1909 and was designated by the Socialist Party of America to honor women in New York's garment industry who went on strike in protest of the working conditions they faced, according to the United Nations. 

Women from activist and political organizations from across the world gathered in Copenhagen the following year. There, they approved of creating an international day for women. That day was observed the following year by several countries in Europe on March 19. The UN officially recognized International Women's Day in 1975. 

In honor of the ongoing fight for equality taking place across the country and the world at large, here's a look at some of the women who have blazed a trail when there was no path to follow. 

Cathay Williams

U.S. Army

Born to a free man and an enslaved woman, Cathay Williams went on to pose as a man to enlist in the Army, becoming the first black woman to enlist in the military.

On Nov. 15, 1866, Williams used the name William Cathay to enlist. She told her recruiting officer that she was a 22-year-old cook, officials said. She was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry and traveled throughout the West with her unit.

She settled in Trinidad, Colo., where she worked as a seamstress and may have also owned a boarding house. 

Williams died in 1893 and in 2018, the Private Cathay Williams monument bench was unveiled on the Walk of Honor at the National Infantry Museum.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone

Library of Congress; Getty; Library of Congress

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone were among the many women who fought for the legal right to vote in the U.S. 

Stanton and Anthony led one of the two national suffrage organizations established in 1869, while Stone led the other. After years of rivalry, they merged in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), with Anthony as its leading force.

The trio and other suffragists fighting for the right to vote made several attempts to cast ballots in the early 1870's, and then filed lawsuits when they were turned away.

American women were given the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Aug. 18, 1920.

Annie Oakley 


From the very beginning of her life, Annie Oakley challenged stereotypes about what it means to be a woman.  

Born Phoebe Ann Mosey, Oakley was just 15 years old when on Thanksgiving Day 1875 she won a shooting match against traveling-show marksman Frank E. Butler. She would go on to become one of America's most famous sharpshooters — and marry Butler — while championing equal rights.

"She wouldn't have said she was a feminist, but there's a difference between being avowed and actually doing it," Glenda Riley, professor of history at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., told the Chicago Tribune. 

Oakley "campaign[ed] for equal pay for women," Riley said. "She also taught women how to shoot and had a partnership marriage with her husband, Frank Butler, who gave up his career in show business to become her manager."

Amelia Earhart


Amelia Earhart also challenged preconceived notions of femininity and womanhood by becoming the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

She received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for her ground-breaking achievement, going on to set many other records and write best-selling books about her flying experiences.

Earhart was also instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots, was a member of the National Woman's Party and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Margaret Heafield Hamilton and Katherine Johnson

Getty; NASA/Bill Ingalls

A man may have been the first person to walk on the moon, but it was women who put him there.

Hamilton and Johnson were pioneers in technology and instrumental in NASA's efforts to make it to the moon.

Hamilton was director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program. Johnson conducted technical work at NASA and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), for 35 years, calculating the trajectories, launch windows and emergency back-up return paths for many flights.

Her calculations were critical to the success of countless missions, including the early NASA missions of Alan Shepard and John Glenn, and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. Johnson also crunched the numbers for a mission to Mars.

The women finally received recognition four decades later when they received the presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. 

Sally Ride


Sally Ride was the first American woman to travel to space. While studying physics at Stanford University in California, Ride saw an ad in the school newspaper inviting women to apply for the first time to NASA's astronaut program in 1977.

She was one of six women picked.

On June 18, 1983, Ride went on her first space shuttle mission as an astronaut, working the shuttle's robotic arm to help put satellites into space. She flew on the space shuttle again in 1984.

Until her death on July 23, 2012, Ride worked in science. She wrote science books for students and teachers, and encouraged students, especially girls, to study science and math. 

Brenda Berkman


Brenda Berkman fought for the right to serve her community as a firefighter and in 1982, was the first woman to be hired by the FDNY.

"In a small way I was trying to challenge the stereotypes and fears that keep us from achieving our greatest potential," Berkman wrote for "Prior to 1977 there was a quota for women firefighters in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) — and that quota was zero. No matter what your physical or mental capabilities, family tradition or firefighting expertise, if you had been born female you were not even allowed to apply to become an FDNY firefighter."

Though the ranks opened to women that year, the FDNY used a physical test that all female applicants failed, including Berkman. She sued on the grounds of gender discrimination and won. As a result, a new test that was based primarily on the job's demands was created. Berkman and 40 other women passed that year.

Sandra Day O’Connor


Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and became one of its most influential justices. She was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and served from 1981-2006.

“I am not a person who carries a lot of tension around,” O’Connor said in an interview not long after she came to the Supreme Court. “I try to do the best job I can and then never look back.”

Shirley Chisholm 


Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968. She represented New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. 

In 1972, Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate to make a bid for the presidency and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

She later said, "When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men."

Elizabeth Beisel

Getty Images

Elizabeth Beisel made history as the first woman to swim from mainland Rhode Island to Block Island. Beisel, who is a three-time Olympian, said she is “humbled and honored” to have made the achievement. Beisel, 29, swam the 10.4 miles in September 2021 in five hours and 19 minutes.

Her swim helped raise funds for cancer research and programs Her dad died from pancreatic cancer several months earlier, and Beisel began her swim next to his favorite restaurant, Ocean Mist.

"As a child growing up in Rhode Island and swimming in the ocean along our beautiful coastline, I always dreamed of swimming to Block Island," Beisel said in a press release. "I envisioned my dad on the island waiting for me to finish with an ear-to-ear grin on his face — how proud he would be that I made it."

She also told Good Morning America that her dad hadn’t wanted the swim to be about him, but about everyone fighting the disease. The money she raised went to Rhode Island hospitals for cancer research, including the hospital where he dad was treated, GMA reported.

"I'll never get to hug him again, but his fight wasn't for nothing," she told the show. "I know that my dad's battle, along with the money raised by Block Cancer, will save someone's life one day. He is smiling knowing we helped give someone and their family the most precious gift of all time."

Hillary Rodham Clinton


Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first woman to gain the nomination of a major party as its candidate for president in 2016. Clinton graduated from Wellesley College in 1969 and earned a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1973. In 1977, she co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

She was appointed the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation in 1978 and became the first female partner at Rose Law Firm the following year. As first lady of the United States, Clinton was an advocate for gender equality and healthcare reform.

"If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all," she famously said at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on Sept. 5, 1995. 

"As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace everywhere in the world, as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled, subjected to violence in and outside their homes — the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized," she continued. 

Mikayla Holmgren

Vince Torre

Mikayla Holmgren made history as the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in a Miss USA state pageant. 

“I just want to build awareness for those with special needs and especially those with Down syndrome,” she told Inside Edition Digital last year after submitting her casting tape to be considered for the swimsuit issue of "Sports Illustrated." 

Over the years, she has garnered many credits to her name, including Special Olympics athlete, gymnast (level 3), golfer, and model. She has been featured in campaigns for Sephora, Rosedale Mall, and Sigma Beauty, and is clearly, no stranger to the spotlight.

Holmgren told Inside Edition Digital that she has always up for new challenges. “I have seen other Miss USA contestants do it. And, I said, I want to do this.”

In 2019, Holmgren spoke in favor of a bill that would outlaw abortions based on Down syndrome diagnoses in Pennsylvania. 

“When I was born six weeks early, the doctors said that I may never walk or talk,” she told the audience at the press conference,  “I proved them wrong.”

Tammy Duckworth


Tammy Duckworth was the first disabled female veteran in the U.S Senate, as well as the first woman to give birth while while serving in the U.S. Senate. 

After she became pregnant with her second child, Duckworth set out to address the challenges she would face as a sitting senator and new mom. 

“You’re not allowed to bring children onto the floor of the Senate at all, so if I have to vote and I’m breastfeeding my child, what do I do, leave her sitting outside?” the Iraq veteran said in an episode of Politico’s "Women Rule" podcast.

Kamala Harris 

Getty Images

Kamala Harris is the United States' first female vice president, the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history, and the first Black American and first South Asian American vice president.

Well before being elected to the second-highest office in the land, Harris was a trailblazer. The Howard University graduate attended the University of California's Hastings College of the Law before beginning her career as a prosecutor. She went on to become the first woman elected as San Francisco's district attorney, the first Black person and first woman to be elected attorney general of the state of California, the second Black woman and the first South Asian American to be elected to the Senate. 

That she has often broken glass ceilings and by extension, is an example for others to follow, is not lost on Harris, who once said: "My mother had a saying: 'Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last.'"

Related Stories