Trailblazers are extraordinary people who go where no one has gone before, who inspire followers with their boldness, originality, and thirst for knowledge, and who establish new standards. They put in a lot of work to make the world a better place, and they show others the way.
Trailblazers are risk-takers who aren’t afraid to try new things, set the bar higher, and pave the way for others to follow. They set the standard for others to follow by pioneering novel approaches and welcoming transformation in their own lives.
What Does It Mean for a Woman to Be a Trailblazer?
Being a trailblazer has nothing to do with gender or sexual orientation. Gender equality, however, remains a battle for women. Women continue to be underrepresented in numerous industries, especially in top positions. But that hasn’t stopped some amazing women in history from breaking through barriers and forging their own paths to success in the face of hardship.
Today, we dedicate this space to female trailblazers: female leaders and business women who overcame enormous obstacles to emerge as pioneers in their respective industries, garnering recognition and respect for their accomplishments and motivating other women to do the same.
This list includes famous women in history who defied stereotypes and broke through barriers to attain success, leaving a lasting legacy for future generations of women.
Influential Women Trailblazers
1. Marie Curie
Marie Curie is one of history’s most influential women. Her groundbreaking work in physics, notably her contributions to the theory of radioactivity, had a global influence on science. Her research transformed our understanding of radioactive materials and their applications.
Her revolutionary efforts won her two Nobel Prizes, making her the first woman and the first person to receive both. Curie’s work made her one of the most famous women in history. But, more importantly, Curie’s work and life influenced thousands of women to pursue scientific professions and helped break down gender barriers in traditionally male-dominated sectors.
2. Madam C.J. Walker
One of the wealthiest African American women of the early 20th century, Madam C.J. Walker was an unparalleled philanthropist, business woman, and social activist. She was born in Louisiana in 1867 to enslaved parents. But that didn’t stop her from establishing an empire. Walker started making haircare products for black women, and her business became a booming success. Her products became popular nationwide because she saw a need for black hair care products.
As a woman leader, her success went beyond business. Walker supported women’s rights and economic development. She addressed the underpayment and devaluation of women in the workplace, particularly in retail sales. In 1905, she taught women retail sales and negotiating skills and worked with businesses to hire them part-time. These women received full pay in 1907.
Walker’s entrepreneurial spirit, women’s empowerment, and humanitarian work have made her a remarkably influential woman and a role model for future women. She still affects business and social justice to this day.
3. Ursula Burns
Historically, there has been a lack of black women in positions of power. However, in 2009, Ursula Burns broke the mold by becoming the first black woman in history to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Ursula joined Xerox as an intern in 1980 and rose through the ranks to become CEO from 2009 to 2016. Before stepping down in 2017, Burns served as the company’s chairwoman. During her fruitful career, she has also served on the boards of directors for numerous major corporations like American Express, ExxonMobil, Nestle, and Uber. Burns is a successful woman innovator who has paved the way for greater workplace diversity and inclusion by shattering barriers to entry. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including multiple spots on Forbes‘ “100 Most Powerful Women” list.
Ursula’s successes and leadership made her one of the most famous women in history, inspiring many young women and people of color to pursue their dreams and fight to remove prejudice from their fields.
4. Anna Bissell
Anna Bissell, the wife of the Bissell vacuum inventor, was one of the finest business women to have existed. She was also the first American female CEO. She elevated the Bissell brand to the next level by striking large retail arrangements and extending the company’s international presence. She focused not just on the expansion of the firm but also on the well-being of her staff. Anna Bissell was among the first to offer pension plans and compensation for job accidents to her employees, displaying her care for their well-being.
Her forward-thinking and inventive approach to company leadership cleared the door for other women to follow in her footsteps and advance into male-dominated executive positions. Anna Bissell’s accomplishments in the vacuum industry and her effect as a woman leader and CEO have inspired many and are still acknowledged today.
5. Christiana Carteaux Bannister
Christiana Carteaux Bannister was a renowned African American business woman in Boston during the mid-nineteenth century who owned and ran several hair salons. Despite substantial prejudice as a woman and a person of color, Bannister was able to develop a successful career and financially support her family through her salons. She even utilized the income from her enterprises to help her husband’s music career. Bannister’s achievements, however, go well beyond the domain of business. She is one of the women who changed the world for the better.
Bannister was also an abolitionist, hosting the Underground Railroad, a network of hidden passageways and safe homes that assisted enslaved individuals in escaping to freedom. Christiana Carteaux Bannister was a true woman trailblazer who opened the path for future generations of African American women to seek entrepreneurship and social justice via her company and activism.
6. Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker was one of the most extraordinary business women in the United States. She is known for being the first African American woman to own a bank in the United States. Her innovative ideas and commercial acumen changed Black business practices and opened the path for others to follow. Walker was a pioneer who utilized her position to empower her community and inspire other women to pursue careers in the field and become successful women leaders.
Walker was a civil rights activist who advocated for racial and gender equality. Despite several hurdles because of her color and gender, she persevered, becoming a source of hope and inspiration for future generations. Maggie Lena Walker’s legacy lives on as an inspiration for Black women’s enterprise and leadership.
7. Joyce Chen
Joyce Chen was a well-known chef, television personality, and restaurateur credited with popularising Chinese food in the United States. Chen, born in China in 1917, emigrated to the United States in the 1950s and began her culinary career by conducting cooking lessons in her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Joyce Chen Restaurant, which she started in 1958, rapidly became popular among culinary connoisseurs and was the first step in establishing her as a successful business woman. Chen’s approach to Chinese cuisine was unique, blending traditional ingredients with modern techniques such as utilizing nonstick pans to simplify stir-frying. Her restaurant was also the first to provide Mandarin-style cuisine, which was less oily and highly sauced than the popular Cantonese cuisine of the time.
Chen published many cookbooks and hosted her own cooking show, “Joyce Chen Cooks,” which ran from 1968 until 1985. She was an influential woman who popularized Chinese food in America and opened the way for subsequent generations of Asian American chefs and restaurateurs.
8. Brownie Wise
Tupperware marketer Brownie Wise was a successful business woman who revolutionized direct sales. In the 1950s, she joined Tupperware and rose to vice president. She invented Tupperware parties, where a host invites friends and family to their home for a product presentation and sales pitch. Wise’s “party plan” unprecedentedly increased Tupperware sales. She trained “Tupperware Ladies” to organize events and sell Tupperware.
Wise’s innovative marketing and alluring personality made her a massively successful woman and direct sales star. She was fired from Tupperware in 1958 after arguing with founder Earl Tupper. Despite this setback, she started her own direct sales business and made her own household goods. Today, women still host Tupperware parties to make money and have fun. Originality and persistence shaped Brownie Wise’s direct sales industry.
9. Estée Lauder
Despite serving women and employing mostly women, many industries have male leaders and managers. Estée Lauder was a woman leader who started a successful cosmetics and skincare company all by herself. Her groundbreaking marketing and product development changed the cosmetics industry. Estée Lauder’s impact on the cosmetics industry went beyond business success, making her one of the most celebrated influential women in history.
The cosmetics industry still uses Lauder’s “present with purchase” strategy. Lauder’s ability to connect with customers was her greatest strength and was instrumental in making her a successful woman. She advised and demonstrated cosmetics in department stores to build brand loyalty. She also created one of the first cosmetics lines for women of color. Her pioneering work still influences the beauty industry and among the Estée Lauder family of companies. Despite her 2004 death, her cosmetics company is one of the world’s most successful.
10. Oprah Winfrey
Media mogul and cultural icon Oprah Winfrey transcends entertainment. She overcame adversity and abuse in Mississippi to become a pioneering journalist, TV personality, and an immensely successful woman. In the 1980s, The Oprah Winfrey Show made her famous. It was the highest-rated daytime talk show for 25 years. Winfrey is also a philanthropist and activist. She founded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership School for Girls in South Africa in 2007 to educate and support impoverished girls.
Winfrey received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. As a woman leader and a human being, her perseverance, compassion, and dedication to positive change inspire millions worldwide.
The Inspiring Legacy of Women Trailblazers
In the end, these amazing women who’ve paved the way have given us a lot to look up to. These famous women in history shattered stereotypes and conquered barriers in their fields, achieving remarkable success. Their resilience, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial flair have opened the doors for generations of women to chase their dreams and realize their aspirations.
Not only have these women trailblazers left a huge mark on their industries, but they’ve also made a positive impact on society as a whole, making the world a better place for all of us. The legacy of these women leaders reminds us that no challenge is insurmountable, and with hard work and perseverance, we can create a brighter future for everyone and blaze our own trail. So let these incredible and influential women inspire you to follow your passions and become a trailblazer in your own way.