c. 1010

Murasaki Shikubu writes the greatest work of Japanese literature

Japanese novelist Murasaki Shikubu, a member of the Japanese court, completes her expansive and complex Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), believed to be the world’s oldest full novel.

Credit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (The Joan Elizabeth Tanney Bequest; M.2006.136.313), www.lacma.org

c. 1620

Artemisia Gentileschi completes her bloody masterpiece

The first woman admitted to Florence’s Academy of Design, Roman artist Artemisia Gentileschi, known for her oeuvre depicting heroic women, finishes Judith Beheading Holofernes.

Credit: In a private collection

1792

The foundation for the women’s rights movement

English essayist Mary Wollstonecraft’s most famous book of criticism, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, breaks new ground with its feminist strength and passion.

Credit: Photos.com/Jupiterimages

1811

Jane Austen publishes her first novel

English novelist Jane Austen, author of the first modern novels in the English language, publishes Sense and Sensibility to huge success, with readers enthralled by the romantic relationships of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.

Credit: ?Photos.com/Jupiterimages

1852

“A moral battle cry”

American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of the most important antislavery novels; it sells 300,000 copies in the first year and is cited among the causes of the American Civil War.

Credit: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZ62-11212)

1868

“The queen of the pose and the princess of the gesture”

French actress Sarah Bernhardt, one of the best-known figures in the history of the stage, has her first major success, portraying Anna Damby in the revival of Kean.

sarah bernhardt
Credit: ?1912 Paramount Pictures

1890

Emily Dickinson’s first poetry collection is published

Poems by Emily Dickinson, a posthumous collection, is released, thus beginning the decades-long enterprise of publishing her 1,775 poems; only 10 had been published during her lifetime.

Credit: Amherst College Archives & Special Collections (Public Domain)

1893

A masterwork of domestic life

American Mary Cassatt paints The Child’s Bath. Influenced by Japanese prints, it evokes the intimacy of mother and child in a flat, bold style and is considered a masterpiece.

Credit: The Art Institute of Chicago, Robert A. Waller Fund (CC0)

1925

Redefining the novel

British author Virginia Woolf completes one of her most lyrical, brilliant novels, Mrs. Dalloway. That and such later works as To the Lighthouse (1927) change the course of Modernist literature.

Credit: New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZ62-111438)

1934

A screen legend’s first Oscar

I never realized until lately that women were supposed to be the inferior sex.

Katharine Hepburn

For her performance in Morning Glory (1933), American actress Katharine Hepburn wins her first of an unprecedented four Academy Awards. During her lengthy career, she transforms Hollywood’s limiting definition of leading lady with her independence and eccentricities.

Credit: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

1935

The First Lady of Song’s first song

American singer Ella Fitzgerald begins her career with the Chick Webb orchestra and records her first song, “Love and Kisses.” In the 1940s and ’50s she becomes one of the best-known female jazz singers.

Credit: William P. Gottlieb Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Neg. No. LC-GLB23-0287 DLC)

1936

Photographing the Depression

American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange conveys the desperate plight of Dust Bowl refugees in her most famous work, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California. Her portraits during the Great Depression greatly influence later documentary and journalistic photography.

Credit: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

1945

Gabriela Mistral wins the Nobel Prize

Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral becomes the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, cited for “lyric poetry…inspired by powerful emotions.”

Credit: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

1949

Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist-literature classic

French feminist Simone de Beauvoir publishes the controversial and influential Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), a scholarly and passionate plea for the abolition of what she called the myth of the “eternal feminine.”

Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1975

“Star of the East” is mourned

The death of Umm Kulthūm, one of the most famous Arab singers, known for her strong and nuanced voice, causes an outpouring of grief as millions line the streets for her funeral procession in Egypt.

Credit: Jacques Marqueton-AP/Shutterstock.com

1977

Meryl Streep’s film debut

American actress Meryl Streep makes her film debut in Julia, launching one of the most praised and decorated careers in cinema.

Credit: Tinseltown/Shutterstock.com

1985

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic?

Canadian author Margaret Atwood publishes the acclaimed novel A Handmaid’s Tale, which posits a Christian fundamentalist theocratic regime in the former United States that arose as a response to a fertility crisis.

Credit: ?Sutton-Hibbert-REX/Shutterstock.com

1993

“A literary artist of the first rank”

Toni Morrison, who explored the black American experience in such novels as The Bluest Eye (1970) and Beloved (1987), becomes the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Credit: Maggie Hardie/Shutterstock.com

1997

J.K. Rowling casts a spell on readers

British author J.K. Rowling publishes the first book in the Harry Potter series, which becomes an international phenomenon and makes Rowling the first billionaire author.

Credit: ?Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

2004

Designs that defy convention

Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, noted for her radical deconstructivist designs, becomes the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Credit: James Winspear—VIEW Pictures/Alamy

2008

The Material Girl is honoured

American pop icon Madonna, who achieved levels of power and control that were nearly unprecedented for a woman in the entertainment industry, is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Credit: Barry Sweet/AP Images

2010

Queen Bey rules the Grammys

Beyoncé wins six Grammy Awards, including song of the year for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” the most trophies awarded to a female performer at one Grammy ceremony.

Credit: ?DFree/Shutterstock.com

2014

Kara Walker’s sugarcoated but not so sweet sculpture?

American artist Kara Walker displays her first sculpture, A Subtlety; or, The Marvelous Sugar Baby, a colossal sugarcoated female sphinx that draws praise for raising challenging questions on, among other complexities, slavery and the female sexual object.

Credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times/Redux

2017

Infinitely long lines for a Yayoi Kusama exhibit

Record crowds visit the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., to view an exhibition of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, known for her extensive use of polka dots and for her infinity installations.

Credit: Sarah Lee-eyevine/Redux

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