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Women Who Made History, Broke Records, Achieved Firsts This Year


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At age 19, Zara Rutherford became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.

Zara Rutherford.

Olivier Matthys/Getty Images

Rutherford, whose father is a former British military pilot, circumnavigated the globe in her single-seater sport plane over five months. She broke two world records in the process as both the youngest woman to fly around the world and the first woman to do so in a microlight aircraft, according to the Washington Post.

American speed skater Erin Jackson won a gold medal in Beijing in February, making her the first Black woman to win the event at the Winter Olympics.

Erin Jackson.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Jackson took home the gold in the 500-meter speed-skating event.

“I know I will be reflecting on this for a long time to come but if I had one thing to share it would be this: If a Black girl from central Florida can stand on the top step of an Olympic podium on the other side of the world as a champion ice skater, well, perhaps it’s true that anything is possible,” Jackson said in a statement shared with Insider’s Gabi Stevenson.

Speed skater Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands set a new world record in the women’s 1,000-meter short track.

Suzanne Schulting.

Lan Hongguang/Xinhua via Getty Images

Schulting, the defending Olympic champion, finished the quarterfinals race with a record time of 1:26.514. In the finals, she finished in 1:28.391 and won gold.

Speed skater Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands became the first athlete in history to win an individual gold medal at five different Olympic Games.

Ireen Wüst.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Wüst has won a total of 12 medals, including six gold, since her first Olympics in 2006. At 35 years old, she is also the oldest speed skater to win a gold medal.

At 49 years and 348 days old, German speed skater Claudia Pechstein set a new record for the oldest woman to ever compete in the Winter Olympics.

Claudia Pechstein.

ANP via Getty Images

Pechstein is also the only woman to ever compete in eight Olympic Games. She has won a total of nine medals: five gold, two silver, and two bronze.

Australian golfer Hannah Green became the first woman to win a mixed-gender professional golf tournament.

Hannah Green.

David Cannon/Getty Images

Green made history as the winner of Australia’s TPS Murray River event on February 20, Reuters reported. She was also the 2019 Women’s PGA Championship winner.

In March, Ariana DeBose became the first openly queer woman of color and the first Afro-Latina actress to win a SAG Award for acting.

Ariana DeBose.

Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

DeBose won best supporting actress for her role as Anita in “West Side Story.”

“It’s indicative that doors are opening,” DeBose told reporters backstage in the virtual SAG media room after her win, according to NBC News. “It’s an honor to an Afro Latina queer women of color and a dancer and a singer and an actor.”

Jane Campion’s second Oscar nomination for best director made her the first woman to receive multiple Oscar nods for directing. She went on to win the award at this year’s ceremony.

Jane Campion.

Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Campion’s first nomination was in 1994 for “The Piano,” although she did not win that year.

Her second nomination came this year for “The Power of the Dog” and marked the first time a woman had received multiple nominations in the category. She won the award, which meant it was also the first time that two female directors won the award back-to-back — Chloe Zhao won for “Nomadland” last year.

DeBose made history again as the first openly queer actor of color and the first Afro-Latina actress to win an Oscar.

Ariana DeBose.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

DeBose won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as Anita in “West Side Story.”

“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. When you look into her eyes you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate,” DeBose said in her acceptance speech. “So to anybody who’s ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever, or you find yourself living in the grey spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us.”

Billie Eilish won an Oscar for best original song, making her the first Academy Award winner born in the 21st century.

Billie Eilish.

PATRICK T. FALLON / Contributor Getty Images

Eilish, who was born in December 2001, and her brother and collaborator, Finneas O’Connell, took home the award for best original song for their James Bond theme “No Time to Die.”

After accepting the award, a shocked Eilish said, “Whoa. Oh my God. You guys! This is so unbelievable, I could scream!”

Although just 20 years old, Eilish is not the youngest ever recipient of the award — Markéta Irglová won best original song for “Falling Slowly” from “Once” in 2008, when she was 19. 

The Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination in April, making her the first Black woman to become a Supreme Court justice.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Jackson serves as the 116th justice and the first Black woman on the Supreme Court in its 233-year history after Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, stepped down, Insider’s Oma Seddiq reported.

She also made history as the first former public defender elevated to the top court, bringing a diverse legal background to the bench that was highly sought-after by the Biden White House. 

Three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah — broke with their party and joined all 50 Democrats in the historic vote, a showing of bipartisanship that has become increasingly rare for Supreme Court confirmations.

At the Emmys in September, Zendaya became the first Black woman and youngest person to win best actress in a drama series twice.


Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The 26-year-old actress won for her role in “Euphoria,” the same award she won in 2020.

In her acceptance speech, Zendaya said that she hoped the show “could help heal people.” 

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who has shared their story with me,” she said. “I want you to know that anyone who has loved a Rue, or feels like they are a Rue. I want you to know that I am so grateful your stories. I carry them with me and I carry them with her, so thank you so much.”

Maura Healey made history as the first openly lesbian governor elected in the US when she won her Massachusetts gubernatorial race in November.

Maura Healey.

Thomson Reuters

Healey, who was also the first openly LGBTQ state attorney general, defeated Republican opponent state Rep. Geoff Diehl to become governor of Massachusetts.

“I hope tonight shows you that you can be whatever, whoever you want to be,” she said in her victory speech, NBC News reported. “And nothing and no one can ever get in your way except your own imagination, and that’s not going to happen.”


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