10 Female TV Characters Who Were Ahead of Their Time

It's hard to believe there was a time when you couldn't show a pregnant woman on television or a single, professional African American mother and the idea of a college-educated woman choosing to focus on her career instead of immediately finding a husband was considered too much of a stretch!

Did you know that Marlo Thomas took a copy of the Feminine Mystique to the head of the TV network to convince him to make That Girl? When Ellen DeGeneres's character came out on television, the sitcom episode warranted a parental advisory!

From Lucy Ricardo to Julia Baker to President Mackenzie Allen, we take a look back at television history with 10 groundbreaking female characters and the courageous actresses who risked their careers, their privacy, and often their safety to portray them.


I Love Lucy originally ran from 1951-1957, starring Lucille Ball as Lucy. Not only was Lucy one of the first characters to be portrayed in a multicultural marriage, but she was also one of the first female leads to have her pregnancy written into a show. That, plus her lovable antics make Lucy a woman who was not your average 1950s housewife! Photo Credit: MPI, Getty Images

That Girl's leading lady Ann Marie was an unmarried, aspiring actress living on her own in New York City. Played by Marlo Thomas, the show broke new ground when it aired in 1966, showing other women they could follow in Ann Marie's footsteps!

Julia was one of the first weekly series to depict an African American woman in a non-stereotypical role. Played by Diahann Carroll, the show's namesake Julia Baker was a nurse who led a pretty normal middle-class life... which was actually something new to television in the late 60s!

Mary Richards from the 1970s The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a true trailblazer. She was never married, widowed, or divorced and never really cared to be! She was an independent career woman who sped right past the secretary job to be a producer at WJM. It may have been a fictional TV station, but her impact was real.   Photo Credit: CBS/Getty Images

Ellen ran from 1994-1998 with Ellen DeGeneres playing the title role of Ellen Morgan, a neurotic bookstore owner. Ellen was the first leading character to come out as gay. It was a high-stakes decision, but an important one for DeGeneres personally, and also for television history.    Photo Credit: ABC/Getty Images

Although short-lived, Margaret Kim from 1994's All American Girl will live on in our hearts forever as the young Korean American woman who lived with her parents. Despite succumbing at times to stereotypes at the whims of the producers, it was one of few American sitcoms to revolve around a family of Asian descent. And a show starring Margaret Cho inherently placed its lead character ten steps ahead of her time...    Photo Credit: ABC/Getty Images

What makes Geena Davis's character Mackenzie Allen from 2005's Commander in Chief ahead of her time? She's the President of the United States! But, hopefully she's not too ahead of her time...   Photo Credit: Brian To, WireImage/Getty Images

Played by America Fererra, Betty Suarez from 2006-2010's Ugly Betty defied cultural and body stereotypes of a leading character. For teens, Betty's positive attitude and self-acceptance amid the often cold and too trendy workplace made her a role model for anyone who fits outside the mold...which is most of us.   Photo Credit: Scott Garfield, ABC/Getty Images

Mad Men's Peggy Olson, portrayed by Elisabeth Moss, exposes not only the incredibly real discrimination women faced in the 1960s workplace, but also the changing times bubbling beneath the surface. Through a combination of her talent, diligence and luck, Olson is able to climb her way up to advertising positions very few women were able to reach at that time.    Photo Credit: Ron Jaffe, AMC

The many wonderful characters played by Carrie Brownstein in IFC's sketch show Portlandia are not only hilarious, but uncanny in how they pinpoint cultural quirks. Each episode brings new characters to life whom we've never met before, and the next thing we know, we can point them out in our daily lives.