Women are movers, shakers and trailblazers in every arena. In the health and wellness industry, specifically, they’ve made strides over the last century that have helped transform how we care for ourselves and others.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting 11 of these truly incredible female pioneers.
1. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)
Elizabeth Blackwell was at the forefront of it all, charting the path for the women who came after her. After receiving many rejection letters, Blackwell was accepted to the Geneva Medical College and became the first woman to receive a medical degree. She later helped open the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children and spent her entire career advocating for female doctors.
2. Clara Barton (1821-1912)
Clara Barton risked her own life to help deliver supplies to soldiers during the Civil War, earning her the nickname "Angel of the Battlefield." Her unshakable passion and dedication for helping others and being of service continued after the war. In 1881, Barton founded the American Red Cross, which supported and continues to support people in distress and carries on her legacy and life-long humanitarian efforts.
3. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)
Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who worked as a nurse for many years, made history by becoming the first African American woman to receive a medical degree. She graduated from Boston's New England Female Medical College and later opened her own medical practice in the same city.
4. Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)
Margaret Sanger was an early pioneer for women's sex education. As a nurse, she helped women who attempted to self-terminate pregnancies. Her most notable accomplishment was inventing the birth control pill, along with scientist Gregory Pincus. Sanger later started the American Birth Control League, which became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to educate women on pregnancy prevention.
5. Nancy Brinker (b. 1964)
Nancy Brinker is the woman behind the global breast cancer movement known as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which she founded in 1982. Brinker named the organization after her sister, who lost her battle with breast cancer. At the time, there was a social stigma around the disease, and Brinker made it her life's mission to end that stigma. Since its inception, the organization has raised billions of dollars for breast cancer research.
6. Michelle Obama (b. 1964)
Former First Lady Michelle Obama has a deep passion for health and wellness, which fueled her to start a national conversation around the childhood obesity epidemic in the country. To drive the movement, Obama launched the Let's Move campaign, which inspired children to eat healthier and incorporate more exercise into their lives.
7. Gabrielle Bernstein (b. 1979)
Wellbeing doesn't just encompass our physical and mental aspects; it also includes our spiritual selves. Gabrielle Bernstein is one of the well-known spiritual thought leaders in the space. Through her numerous best-selling books and motivational talks, she's helped people around the world cultivate their own spiritual practices and create their best lives.
8. Oprah Winfrey (b. 1954)
Oprah Winfrey is, without a doubt, a legend in every space. In health and wellness especially, she has definitely made her mark and inspired millions over the years by openly sharing her own struggles with weight management. She's also helped open up the conversation around spirituality with her Super Soul series. She's instilled the importance of self-care, generosity and gratitude. More importantly, she doesn't just preach those things. She lives and breathes them, too, making her a true embodiment of a wellness pioneer.
9. Jane Fonda (b. 1937)
No women pioneers in wellness list would be complete without the one and only Jane Fonda. The award-winning actress, fashion model and fitness phenomenon ignited a movement in the '80s and '90s with her now-iconic and wildly popular workout videos. Dressed up in leotards and legwarmers, of course, Fonda got women excited to get up and move their bodies Fonda style.
10. Kris Carr (b. 1971)
If you've dipped even a pinky toe into the wellness space, chances are you've come across Kris Carr. The wellness advocate and New York Times best-selling author was diagnosed with a rare and incurable stage four cancer in 2003, which prompted her to take matters into her own hands. Years later, she is thriving, still living with cancer and has shared her journey and tips for staying healthy and happy through her different platforms.
11. Arianna Huffington (b. 1950)
The importance of sleep has never been such a hot wellness topic, and that's thanks in part to media mogul turned wellness trailblazer Arianna Huffington. Inspired by her own experience with burnout, Huffington set out to educate people on the importance of sleep and the consequences of sleep deprivation, and to help empower people with actionable tips for revolutionizing their relationship with rest. She is quite literally the queen of naps.