Female pioneers: The women who paved the way for our careers today

Women have come a long way in the last century and a half, but there’s still some way to go.  

Here we chart some of the first women who have paved the way for the rest of us in male-dominated careers. Use them as your inspiration to go out there and smash the gender gap!

1865 – Elizabeth Garret Anderson, first female doctor (UK)

As a physician, surgeon and suffragist,  Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a highly impressive figure. Gaining her degree at the University of Paris and subsequently founding the New Hospital for Women in London (staffed entirely by women), she worked tirelessly to improve the lives of women around her. Largely due to her efforts, an act was passed in 1876 permitting women to enter the medical professions.

1891 – Rachel Beer, first female editor of a national UK newspaper

Born in India and raised in England by her British family, the wealthy and influential Sassoons, Rachel Beer took on the mantel of editor of the Observer after initially contributing articles to the magazine. After purchasing The Sunday Times two years later, she promptly assumed editorship of this national newspaper as well.

1895 – Lillian Lindsay, first licensed female dentist in Britain

Lillian Lindsay was the third of eleven children born to a musician in North London. As the first female dentist to qualify in the UK, Lindsay faced discrimination on all sides. Combatting this, she went on to become the first female president of the British Dental Association, sub-editor of the British Dental Journal, and was awarded a CBE for her efforts.

1915 – Edith Smith, first female police constable (UK)

A product of the Women’s Police Service, which was founded in 1914 by Nina Boyle and Margaret Damer Dawson, Edith Smith was the first British woman with full powers of arrest. She was appointed to deal with women, and in particular worked with prostitutes in the Grantham area.

1922 – Ivy Williams, first woman to be called to the English bar

The legal profession has long been an impenetrable male fortress, but with determination Ivy Williams became the first women to join one of the four historic inns of court (inner temple). Going on to more firsts, Ivy was the first woman awarded a Doctor of Civil Laws the year after her call to the bar, and was subsequently also the first woman to teach law at a British university. Her honorary fellowship at St. Anne’s College Oxford was awarded in 1956.

1922 – Carrie Morrison, first female solicitor (UK)

With a first class Cambridge degree and host of important war work behind her, qualifying as the first female solicitor age 34 was far from Carrie Morrison’s only achievement. Working as a ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer’ and for the ‘Women and Children’s Protection Society’, Morrison worked tirelessly to make a difference with her chosen career path.

1963 – Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space

Having previously worked in a textile factory as an assembly worker, Russian Tereshkova was chosen from more than 400 applicants to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. Her career as a cosmonaut extended into politics on her return, as a prominent member of the Soviet Union Communist party.

1979 – Margaret Thatcher, first female prime minister (UK)

In more recent memory, we have the powerful figure of Margaret Thatcher. Whilst not known for using her power to propagate the rights and equality of women, she paved the way for strong female leadership. It has, admittedly, taken another 26 years before a woman has held the seat of prime minister again – but two is better than nothing, and with the determination of women yet to come, this number will grow!

So there you have it; eight extraordinary women, all of whom left their mark on the world, and on the lives and careers of hundreds of thousands of women.

 About the author

Alexandra Jane is the writer and editor of graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available, as well as their graduate jobs Manchester page for further opportunities.


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