Woman of the Year, Women of the Century

By Rob Wyse|08-03-2021 | 4 Min Read
Woman of the Year Celebrated!

A belated thank you

In 2016, it was Hillary Clinton, and the year before it was Angela Merkel. The award: Time Magazine’s Woman of the Year.

In 2020, the magazine’s Person of the Year was  Kamala Harris (jointly with Joe Biden). The year 2020 was significant because the Person of the Year was shared between a man and a woman. In fact, prior to 1999, the publication only recognised the Man of the Year. Because of that historic change, the publication has recognized 100 ‘Women of the Year’s starting in 1920 with The Suffragists celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.


Woman of the Year

It is appropriate that the first Woman of the Year celebrated the starting point of the empowerment of women with the vote. Since that time the lineup of women recognized has encompassed politics, the arts, and sports. Select winners have included: 

  • Blues singer, Bessie Smith in 1923; 
  • Novelist and critic, Virginia Woolf in 1929; 
  • Aviator Amelia Earhart in 1935; 
  • Physicist Chien-Shiung Wu in 1945; 
  • Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir in 1956; 
  • First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy in 1962 ushered history into the White House; 
  • Musician Zenzile Miriam Makeba in 1967 provided the opening riff for the apartheid revolution; 
  • Lesley Brown was recognized for giving birth to her daughter Louise in 1978 – the first 'test-tube baby';
  • In 1968 it was Flo-Jo – Florence Griffith Joyner who ran the 100 m in 10.49 seconds, a world record that still stands; 
  • Ellen DeGeneres was recognized in 1997 for three powerful words, “Yep, I’m gay;” 
  • In 2002, it was ordinary people doing extraordinary things as ‘The Whistleblowers’ stepped forward: Cynthia Cooper alerted the audit committee of telecom giant WorldCom to a massive accounting fraud; Sherron Watkins warned then Enron CEO Kenneth Lay of an accounting hoax that concealed hundreds of millions of dollars in debt; Coleen Rowley detailed the FBI’s failure to respond to warnings from her field office about a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks, and
  • In 2019, it was 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, who acted on her conscience to make us all conscious of our environment.


As I write this, it is immediately before International Women’s Day, March 8. It is celebrated on March 8 because in 1914, the observance of the day in Germany was dedicated to women's right to vote. German women did not win the right until 1918. So, it is also fitting that The Suffragists were among the first to win Time’s Woman of the Year.

Heroes close to my heart

For me, today I also reflect and think about my grandmother, Rose Wohlgemuth Weisman. Her birthday was March 6, 1903.  I think about the changes we have seen in the past 118 years – and I think about the changes she saw in her life. She lived through the right to vote, Women’s Liberation, the first test tube baby and more.  

And her name lives on. Years ago, our family endowed a lecture series at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, entitled, the Rose Wohlgemuth Weisman Women’s Voices Lecture Series. It recognises accomplished women writers – of which my mother, Lois Wyse, NY Times best-selling author, was one.

So, for International Women’s Day, I celebrate women’s voices everywhere. I celebrate that they can speak up, they can vote, and they can be heard. History shows, it has made a hell of a difference.

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Rob Wyse is an expert in brand storytelling and president, North America of Berkeley Communications. For thirty years, he has guided senior leaders in creating compelling story arcs that connect brands to customers. At the heart of his storytelling has been the management of issues/policy to drive market opportunity. Issues include AI, climate change, the future of work, diversity, and healthcare.
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