Who Run the World? See All the Women Who've Made Hollywood Herstory

Females who took charge, broke down barriers and transformed the entertainment industry

By Johnni Macke Mar 06, 2019 11:00 AMTags
Women Who Made History in HollywoodGetty Images

We're all about history and the people who made a difference in different fields, but we're much more interested in herstory...at least this week.

With International Women's Day quickly approaching—it's on Friday, March 8—we've been taking a look back at some of the most iconic and influential women in Hollywood and there are a lot. We've managed to narrow it down to just under 50 fierce females who made history in the entertainment industry and they are so impressive.

Some risked their jobs to change the way the Hollywood studio system ran while others were trailblazers in front of the screen and were the first to win awards that men had been earning for years prior.

A few of these women set crazy award show records—we're looking at you Meryl Streep and Julia Louis-Dreyfus—while other stars took a step forward not only for women but for people of color through their groundbreaking wins like Hattie McDaniel who was the first black woman to win an Oscar for any acting category in 1940. 

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Even more women have changed the music scene than you might've known about with their Grammy wins, hosting gigs and dominating male-run categories. What's equally as exciting is all of the women who made changes and strides behind the scenes.

The first women in film were basically unsung heroes and it's about time they step into the spotlight.

Whether they were directing during a time where only men were in that role or they became the first woman to head a major studio, women have been breaking down barriers for decades and we are in awe of all they've accomplished in the entertainment world throughout history.

In honor of International Women's Day this week we are sharing some of the major accomplishments and ceiling-shattering moments that women have been a part of since movies and TV began.

These ladies are fearless icons that we hope continue to inspire generations of women to come, because they definitely give us power to fight for change on the daily.

Women Who Made History in Hollywood

In the spirit of this year's International Women's Day campaign, #BalanceForBetter, here are 47 women who have managed to even the playing field in some way throughout their career and make a step towards a more gender-balanced world in Hollywood.

You go girls!

Alice Guy-Blaché

This is a woman who really should be remembered, because she was the first female to direct a film! Alice Guy-Blaché worked for Gaumont-Paris and began making films back in 1896, which is the same year she directed La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy), which is considered the first fiction film ever made. Despite it being a man's world, Guy-Blaché was the film guru of her time overseeing a reported 1,000 films between 1896 and 1922 as either director or producer. 

Judy Garland

Judy Garland is an icon and she has the history-making stats to prove it. In 1962, The Wizard of Oz actress was the first female (and the youngest honoree) to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes. The year prior she became the first female winner for Album of the Year at the Grammys for her record Judy at Carnegie Hall, proving she really could do it all.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The Seinfeld alum has been making history in Hollywood for years beginning with her time on Saturday Night Live, when she became the youngest female to ever star on the comedy series. Since then, she's gone on to TV glory becoming the most decorated Emmys winner, male or female, with her unprecedented 11 total wins. In 2017, she broke another Emmys record with her sixth win for her performance as President Selina Meyer on Veep, which makes her the only star with that many wins for one single role.

Hattie McDaniel

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel did the unthinkable...she won an Oscar as a black woman. The Oscars have been around since 1929, but it wasn't until this moment that any black female won and it was a bittersweet win to say the least. McDaniel was awarded the Best Actress in a Supporting Role trophy for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind, but due to segregation, she wasn't able to sit with her co-stars from the film, but instead was escorted to a segregated table at the ceremony. Despite the manner in which the award was presented, this was a huge step for woman and people of color and it didn't go unnoticed. McDaniel was also the first black woman to sing on the radio in the United States, so ya, she was a big deal.

Sherry Lansing

In 1980, Sherry Lansing made history in the business side of Hollywood when she became the first female president of 20th Century Fox. In 1992, she became the first female studio head following her acceptance of the chairmanship of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group AKA becoming the CEO of Paramount Pictures. She is also the first female movie head to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford was a fierce female in a male dominated world back in the early 1900s. She co-founded the United Artists when she was only 27 years old and she also co-founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was known as "America's Sweetheart" of the silent era, but she always got what she deserved earning a reported $1 million per year as an actor and producer beginning in 1919 until she retired.

Katharine Hepburn

As one of the most iconic actresses of all time it's no surprise that Katharine Hepburn is an Oscar-winning title holder. In addition to being known for sporting trousers when women were exclusively wearing dresses, she has more Best Actress Oscars than any other actress to date. She has won four Academy Awards for films including, Morning Glory, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter and On Golden Pond.

Dorthy Arzner

Dorthy Arzner is one of the most influential female film directors in history. She directed 20 films during her career (between the 1920s and 1940s) and became the first female member of the Directors Guild of America. She is also credited with inventing the boom microphone, which is still used on sets today.

Edith Head

Costume designers today have Edith Head to look to for inspiration and career goals. Back in 1924 she was hired at Paramount and went on to earn 35 Oscar nominations, designing costumes for more than 1,000 films and won eight Oscars by the end of her career. She also outfitted the biggest stars of the time and became the first female head designer at a major studio.

Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball is one of the most iconic TV actors and comedians to ever work in Hollywood and she was also a legendary businesswoman. In 1962, she became the first woman to head a major Hollywood studio after buying out her ex-husband Desi Arnaz from their company Desilu Productions. Before she became her own boss, in 1951, the I Love Lucy star made TV history when she co-hosted the Emmys alongside her then-husband, Arnaz, which was a first for females at the award show.

Ella Fitzgerald

The first Grammy Awards took place in 1958 and Ella Fitzgerald pretty much stole the show. She won both Best Vocal Performance, Female and Best Jazz Performance, Individual, which made her the first woman to win multiple Grammys. The next year, Fitzgerald became the first woman to take the Grammys stage when she performed in honor of the second Grammy Awards for the taped televised event called NBC Sunday Showcase. In 1966, she was the first woman to receive the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Janet Gaynor

Even though their has been a Best Actress award since the beginning of the Academy Awards, people tend to forget the star who paved the way for the women who came after her by winning this honor at the inaugural show. So, who won it back in 1929? Janet Gaynor! The actress won for her roles in 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise, because at the time nominees were voted on based on all of their work during the specific time period. 

Julie Taymor

When it comes to the Tony Awards it took a long time for women to win big. The Broadway-focused award show began in 1947, but it wasn't until 1998 that a woman won for Best Director of a musical and that moment came when Julie Taymor received her Tony for The Lion King

Julia Phillips

Julia Phillips might've been partners with her then-husband Michael Phillips when she won the Oscar for Best Picture for her producing work on The Sting, but she made history on her own. She was the first woman to win this award in 1974 and two years later she created another hit with Taxi Driver, which earned another Best Picture nomination in 1977.

Carole King

Carole King didn't just give us the amazing theme song for Gilmore Girls, she paved the way for female musicians with her groundbreaking wins at the Grammys over the years. She was the first woman to win Song of the Year for "You've Got a Friend" in 1971, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. That same year she became the first woman to win multiple general fields at the music award show with a win for Record of the Year with "It's Too Late," Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Album of the Year for Tapestry.

Arlene Francis

Game shows traditionally have male hosts, but that wasn't the case for Arlene Francis who became the first woman to host one back in 1949. She hosted Your Big Moment from 1949 to 1952 and then served as a panelist on CBS's What's My Line? for its 25-year run.

Viola Davis

In 2015, both Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson were nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, which was the first time in Emmy history that two African American actresses were nominated in a lead actress category. When Davis won for her role on How to Get Away With Murder, she became the first black female to win this massive category and her speech was unforgettable.

Olivia de Havilland

Sometimes if you're willing to risk your career, you end up changing the system, which is exactly what Olivia de Havilland did in 1944. That year, the actress sued Warner Bros. in a bold move and won, freeing actors from the contracts that used to bond stars to a specific studio for perpetuity. Her lawsuit changed the way the Hollywood studio system worked forever, leveling the playing field between studios and actors, and three years later she won her first Oscar for To Each His Own, proving her risk was worth taking.

Patty Jenkins

Wonder Woman is all about girl power and women saving the day, which is why it was a very big deal that Patty Jenkins had the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie directed by a woman with its $103.3 million in 2017. She returns for the sequel as writer, director and producer, so perhaps she'll break her own record when it comes out in 2020.

Halle Berry

It took more than seven decades, but in 2002, Halle Berry became the first African American woman to win Best Actress at the Oscars for her role as Leticia in Monster's Ball and she made sure to thank all of the powerful women of color who surrounded her, came before her and those who would now be able to win the honor of Best Actress in the future.

Angela Lansbury

The Murder She Wrote star has been a TV staple forever and acting since the 1940s, so it seems appropriate that she be the first woman to host the Emmy Awards by herself, which happened in 1993.

Astrud Gilberto

Astrud Gilberto broke the mold when she became the first woman to win Record of the Year at the Grammys in 1964. She won with Stan Getz for "The Girl From Ipanema."

Miyoshi Umeki

Japanese American actress Miyoshi Umeki became the first woman of Asian descent to win any acting Oscar when she took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Katsumi Kelly in Sayonara in 1957 and there has yet to be another Asian woman to do the same.

Whoopi Goldberg

The View co-host has a long history of hosting gigs and two of them definitely reshaped the award show landscape. In 1992, the Sister Act star hosted the Grammy Awards and became the first woman to do so. She then hosted the Oscars in 1994 for the first time and again made history as the first solo female to helm that award show. She went on to host the Oscars three more times, which makes sense since she is an EGOT, winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony in her career.

Bobbie Gentry

There were a lot of firsts in the music industry, and one of the most significant is when country singer and songwriter Bobbie Gentry won Best New Artist in 1967. She was the first woman to get this award and the next solo woman to do so was Carly Simon in 1971. 

Meryl Streep

For decades Meryl Streep has been an award show shoe-in when it comes to winning and not-so-surprisingly all those wins have made her a big deal in the acting world and in Hollywood. All of her achievements are also a big win for women, because she has eclipsed men at two of the biggest award shows and we can't help but bow down to her greatness. Let's take the Oscars for example, since her first nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1978, Streep has been nominated for a record 21 Academy Awards and taken home three. Throughout her history with the Golden Globes, the Mamma Mia star has received 32 nominations and won nine, including the Cecile B. DeMille Award, which is more nominations and wins than any other actor, male or female. 

Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Animated movies are loved by people of all ages, but did you know that it wasn't until 2011 that a woman solely directed one? It's true! With Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer Yuh Nelson became the first woman to direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio on her own. She was also the head of story for the original Kung Fu Panda and co-directed the third installment of the franchise. 

Aretha Franklin

The one and only Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and as the Queen of Soul she totally deserved it. 

Karen Arthur

Karen Arthur has 45 directing credits to her name including work on Hart to Hart and Cagney and Lacey, which is what she's best known for. In 1985, she earned the Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for Cagney and Lacey's episode titled "Heat," making her the first woman to win that category and it took 10 more years for another woman to win again.

Shirley Dinsdale Layburn

Despite the fact that a lot of moments in Hollywood had women playing catch up, when it comes to the Emmys, they were actually the first ones billed. Well, Shirley Dinsdale Layburn was at least when she was given the first-ever Emmy handed out at the award show in 1949. This also made her the first woman to win an Emmy, which she did for Most Outstanding Personality for her work as a ventriloquist and TV and radio personality...while she was just a college student.

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