Babe Didrikson ZahariasThe first woman to play in a PGA event, Zaharias competed in the 1938 Los Angeles Open. Only four other women have appeared in PGA events since. She was also accomplished in basketball, track, tennis, baseball, and swimming, and was selected the best female athlete of the first half of the 20th century by the AP. Asked if there was anything she didn’t play, Babe responded: “Yeah, dolls.”
Toni StoneStone is considered the “female Jackie Robinson,” as she was the first woman to play big-league professional baseball. She was signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1953 to play second base. Their previous second baseman? Future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.
Billie Jean KingKing defeated Bobby Riggs on Mother’s Day in the first of two 1973 matches dubbed Battle of the Sexes, landmark moments where a female athlete bested a male head-to-head on a nationwide broadcast. She had staying power too — 10 years later at Wimbledon, she became the oldest Grand Slam semifinalist at 39 years, 7 months and 9 days old.
Nadia ComaneciAt just 14 years old, Comaneci was a breakout star at the 1976 Montreal games. She became the first to achieve a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event, and won gold in the all-around, beam and uneven bars. “I just remember trying to stay focused,” she said. “It takes very little to break your concentration, and then you make mistakes.”
Victoria RocheRoche, originally from Korea and adopted by British parents living in Brussels, was the first girl to play in the Little League World Series in 1984. Little League began allowing girls to play in the late 1970s, and the first to reach the World Series was Roche. She was an outfielder on the Belgium squad, which also included her brother Jeremy. Other girls have followed in her footsteps.
Nancy LiebermanLieberman has been a pioneer since she was 17 and made the U.S. Olympic team for the 1976 Montreal Games. She became the first woman in a men’s pro league in 1986 with the Springfield Fame of the United States Basketball League. When the WNBA started, she returned as a player, and played one last game in 2008, at age 50.
Steffi GrafNo women’s tennis player has dominated a calendar year the way Graf did in 1988 at age 19. She completed the only Golden Slam in tennis history, by winning all four Grand Slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year. Leading up to her Grand Slam, she lost just once that year, to Gabriela Sabatini at Amelia Island.
Florence Griffith-JoynerGriffith-Joyner still looms large over track and field. Incredibly, she still holds the women’s world records in both the 100 meters and 200 meters, more than three decades later. She put up both times in 1988, with a 100m time of 10.49 seconds during Olympic qualifying and a 200m time of 21.34 during the Seoul games.
Manon RheaumeA scout sent videotape of Rheaume to the Tampa Bay Lightning, she was invited to camp, and made her debut against the Blues in 1992. It was the first appearance by a woman in an NHL preseason game. “This changed my life basically and took my life in a different direction than I was planning to go,” said Rheaume, who won silver for Canada in the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Julie KroneAboard Colonial Affair at the 1993 Belmont Stakes, she became the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown race. She earned 3,704 wins and was the first woman inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Krone endured a fractured kneecap (in a race she went on to win), fractured ankle, a fall in which she broke both hands, and a fractured arm.
Mia HammAfter suiting up for the US national team at age 15 and winning four NCAA titles at North Carolina, Hamm kept making history during her distinguished international career. She was part of the 1999 World Cup team, the first and only women’s team to win it all on home soil, and in 2013 became the first woman inducted into the World Football Hall of Fame.
Annika SorenstamSorenstam was given a sponsor’s exemption to play in the 2003 Bank of America Colonial Tournament, making her the first woman since 1945 to play in a PGA event. In the first round, she led the field in driving accuracy, was in the top 20 in greens in regulation, and finished 96th overall. She also won 10 career LPGA majors, and is one of seven female golfers with a career Grand Slam.
Sarah AttarAttar ran the 800 meters in 2 minutes, 44.95 seconds at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but the time didn’t matter. It made her the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in track and field at the Olympics. “For women in Saudi Arabia, I think this can really spark something to get more involved in sports, to become more athletic,” she said.
Ronda RouseyRousey left an indelible mark on UFC, right from the start in 2013. She submitted Liz Carmouche in the first round via her signature armbar at UFC 157, in the first women’s fight in UFC history. She would make six consecutive defenses of the women’s bantamweight title, which remains the record for that division, and was the first woman inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2018.
Danica PatrickWith a lap at 196.434 mph, Patrick locked down the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500 and became the first female driver to do so. She would finish her career with seven top-10 Nascar finishes and a win on the IndyCar circuit. “I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl,” Patrick said.
Serena WilliamsAfter besting her sister Venus at the 2017 Australian Open, Serena eclipsed Steffi Graf’s Open era record with her 23rd career Grand Slam singles title. With her next major title, Serena will tie the all-time record held by Margaret Court. Also notable: she would become the fourth mother in the Open era to win a major, joining Court, Evonne Goolagong and Kim Clijsters.
Sabrina IonescuThe Oregon superstar is the sole member of the 2,000-point/1,000-rebound/1,000-assist club in Division I history — and that includes both men and women. She is also a triple-double machine (26 in her career). Of the six seasons in Division I in which a player has at least six triple-doubles, Ionescu accounted for half of them.