Women who made television history
One small step for woman...
As the United States celebrates Women's History Month this March, EW takes a look back at some of the biggest pioneers in television through the years. Meet the groundbreakers, fighters, and queens who have been breaking barriers on the small screen since the earliest days of TV.
1948: First full-time news correspondent.1976: First woman to moderate presidential debate.
Pauline Frederick was the first woman to become a full-time news correspondent when ABC finally gave her a full-time contract after years of employing her as a freelancer.
Fredrick made history again in 1976 when she moderated an October presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
1958: First family sitcom to focus on the mother, not the father.
Actress Donna Reed made history with her series The Donna Reed Show. The half-hour sitcom was the first family comedy to focus on the mother instead of the father.
1963: First black actress to star in a TV drama.
Legendary actress Cicely Tyson made history as the first African-American star of a television drama with her role as secretary Jane Foster in East Side/West Side.
1966: First single-girl sitcom.
It's hard to believe, but Marlo Thomas' That Girl was the first show focused on a woman who was not married or living with her parents. Thomas' character Ann Marie remained unmarried throughout the show's run.
1968: First sitcom centered on an African-American character who was not a servant.
Diahann Carroll starred in Julia as a widowed nurse and mother. She won a Golden Globe in 1968 for the role, and made history again as the first black actress to be nominated for an Emmy in 1969.
1972: The Pill.
Throughout it's run, The Mary Tyler Moore Show made a name for itself showcasing an unmarried, 30-something woman in the workplace. However, Mary's single status didn't stop her from dating.
In season 3, Mary's mom says, "Don't forget to take your pill." At the same exact time, Mary and her dad answer, "I won't," casually revealing to the audience that young professionals use contraceptives, which was still controversial at the time.
1972: First woman to have a legal abortion on primetime television.
1974: First black woman to lead a network drama.
Teresa Graves became the first black woman to lead a network drama with Get Christie Love!.
1983: First woman to win a Daytime Emmy for outstanding host of a game or audience participation show.
1989: First woman to own and produce her own TV talk show.
After years as a news anchor and host of a successful regional talk show, Oprah Winfrey took ownership of her show, expanded it nationally, and became a worldwide success with her own network.
1992: Murphy Brown decides to raise her baby alone.
1997: First actress to come out as gay on TV.
2006: First female solo weekday anchor of a Big Three broadcast network show.
While women have been part of newscasts for years, Katie Couric was the first woman to solo anchor a Big Three news show.
2012: First African-American woman to lead a network drama in nearly 40 years.
2014: First African-American actress to play the president of the United States on television.
2015: First black woman to win an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
"In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line."
Viola Davis recited Harriet Tubman's famous words as she accepted her Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Drama for her role in How to Get Away With Murder. Davis was the first and only black woman to receive the honor.
2017: First woman to create three hit shows with more than 100 episodes each.
Powerhouse showrunner Shonda Rhimes has dominated Thursday nights for years with her string of inclusive hit television shows. When Scandal passed the 100 episode mark, Rhimes became the first woman to have three shows make it to the coveted milestone.
2017: First black woman to win an Emmy for Comedy Writing.
2018: First Asian woman to receive an Emmy nomination for Lead Drama Actress.
2019: First black transgender woman to have a production deal at a major studio.
In 2019 Pose writer, director, and producer Janet Mock signed a three-year, multimilion contract with Netflix, making her the first out black transgender woman with an overall production deal at a major studio. Upon announcement of the deal Mock stated, “Eighty-four percent of Americans say they don’t know and/or work with a trans person, so there’s potential now — with Netflix’s worldwide audience — to introduce hundreds of millions of viewers to trans people, and show people who may not understand us that we can tell our own stories!”