Women who made television history
One small step for woman...
EW takes a look back at some of the biggest pioneers for women in and on 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 on East Side/West Side.
1966: First single-woman sitcom
It's hard to believe, but Marlo Thomas' That Girl was the first show that 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 a Black character who was not a domestic worker
Diahann Carroll starred on 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 its run, The Mary Tyler Moore Show made a name for itself by showcasing an unmarried, thirtysomething 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
Bea Arthur's Maude made history when the titular character chose to have an abortion, which, at the time, was available legally in New York where the show was set, but not nationally.
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 hosting a game show
Betty White won for hosting the aptly-titled game show, Just Men!. Over 20 years later, Meredith Vieira became only the second woman to win the award for Outstanding Game Show Host.
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
Candice Bergen's Murphy Brown caused a stir when she decided to raise her child alone, setting off a national debate about the meaning of family. Following the season 4 story line, Murphy Brown continued to run for another seven seasons and briefly returned to CBS in 2018 for a 13-episode revival.
1997: First actress to come out as gay on TV
Ellen DeGeneres made history when her character revealed that she was gay on her sitcom Ellen. DeGeneres' own revelation quickly followed the episode.
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 (CBS, NBC, and ABC) news show.
2012: First Black woman to lead a network drama in nearly 40 years
When Kerry Washington graced the small screen as Olivia Pope on Scandal, not only was she introducing the world to white hats and the winning combination of red wine and popcorn, she was also the first Black woman to lead a network drama in nearly 40 years.
2014: First Black actress to play the president of the United States on television
Alfre Woodard portrayed the president of the United States on the small screen on the short-lived State of Affairs.
2015: First Black woman to win an Emmy for Best 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 Series for her role on How to Get Away With Murder. Davis was the first Black woman to receive the honor — Zendaya went on to win the award twice for Euphoria.
2017: First woman to create three hit shows with more than 100 episodes each
Powerhouse showrunner Shonda Rhimes has dominated Thursday nights on ABC for years with her string of inclusive hit television shows. When Scandal passed the 100-episode mark in 2017, Rhimes became the first woman to have three shows make it to the coveted milestone, following Grey's Anatomy in 2009 and Private Practice in 2012.
2017: First Black woman to win an Emmy for Best Writing for a Comedy Series
Two years after Viola Davis' historic Emmy win, Lena Waithe made history again when she took home the Emmy for Comedy Writing for penning an episode of Master of None with Aziz Ansari. In 2022, Quinta Brunson was the first Black woman to win the award solo for Abbott Elementary.
2018: First Asian woman to receive an Emmy nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Sandra Oh made history in 2018 when she was nominated for her critically-acclaimed role as an MI5 security officer on Killing Eve. She would go on to win the Golden Globe for Best TV Drama Actress for the role in 2019 and earn three additional Emmy nominations for her performance.
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, multimillion-dollar 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!"