Female Oscar winners once made a history by their outstanding performances and great talent earning one or even more Academy Awards. Who was the first female to break the ice?
The Academy Award for Best Actress is an annual award that is given in honor of an actress who has delivered a remarkable performance in a leading role and has achieved huge success while working within the film industry.
If you are interested to learn who was the first woman to win an Oscar and see the list of our selected female Oscar winners, just continue scrolling down.
Before Reaching to Female Oscar Winners: Background History of the Academy Awards
In the first three years of Oscar, actresses were nominated as the best in their categories. In that period, all of their work during the qualifying period was listed after the award. However, during the following years, this confusing system was replaced by the current system.
Currently, an actress is nominated for a specific performance in one film. Furthermore, nominees are determined by single transferable vote and winners are selected by a plurality vote from the eligible voting members of the Academy.
Since the 9th ceremony, the category of female Oscar winners was officially limited to five nominations. Throughout the history of the Oscars, the award has been given to 75 actresses.
By the way, six women on the list have been awarded an Honorary Academy Award for their acting, namely Greta Garbo, Mary Pickford, Barbara Stanwyck, Deborah Kerr, Gena Rowlands and Sophia Loren.
Female Oscar winners #1: Janet Gaynor
The 1st Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929 and the first woman to win an Oscar was Janet Gaynor. She received the award for her roles in 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise.
By the way, it was the only occasion that an actress won one Oscar for multiple film roles. But first, let’s learn more about the first woman to win an Oscar.
Janet Gaynor was a painter, American film, stage and television actress born in 1906. She began her career as an extra in shorts and silent movies. But after signing with 20th Century-Fox she rose to fame and became very popular.
This first woman to win an Oscar made her Broadway debut in 1980 in the adaptation of the movie Harold and Maude.
Howard W. Koch, one of the presidents of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences once spoke about Janet Gaynor as an outstanding actress who has “truly immeasurable contribution to the art of motion pictures”.
Female Oscar winners #2: Katharine Hepburn
The one and only actress who has won the most awards in the category of female Oscar winners is Katharine Hepburn with her four wins. This brilliant American actress is especially known for her fierce independence and spirited personality.
By this token, Katharine Hepburn was a leading actress in Hollywood for more than 60 years. She appeared in a wide range of genres, starting from comedy to literary drama.
Importantly enough, Hepburn was named as the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute.
Just from the beginning of Hepburn’s early years in the film industry, her works were marked with huge success. Can you imagine that her third picture, Morning Glory brought her an Academy Award.
In the latter half of her life, Katharine Hepburn appeared in Shakespearean stage productions and three other Oscars came for her work in, The Lion in Winter, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and On Golden Pond.
Hepburn refused to correspond to society’s expectations of women and she was quite assertive, outspoken and even wore trousers long before it was acceptable and fashionable for women to wear them.
Nowadays Hepburn is remembered as an important cultural figure with her unique lifestyle and independent characters that made her the “modern woman” of the 20th-century United States.
Female Oscar winners #3: Meryl Streep
Women are better at acting than men. Why? Because we have to be. If successfully convincing somebody bigger than you of something he doesn’t know is a survival skill, this is how women have survived through the millennia. Pretending is not just play. Pretending is imagined possibility. Pretending or acting is a very valuable life skill, and we all do it. All the time.
Next up in our list of female Oscar winners is the unsurpassed and unrepeatable Meryl Streep. In total, she has 20 Oscar nominations with three wins. But for the category of Best Actress, she has been nominated for 16 occasions, resulting in two awards.
She is widely considered as the “best actress of her generation” and she has more nominations than any other actress. Furthermore, this amazing actress has also received 31 Golden Globe nominations and won eight that is more nominations and more wins than any other actor.
By the way, Meryl Streep received her first Academy Award nomination for The Deer Hunter and went on to win Best Supporting Actress for Kramer vs. Kramer. Also, she won the Best Actress award for Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady.
Here is the full list of Oscar-nominated roles of Meryl Streep
- The French Lieutenant’s Woman
- Out of Africa
- Evil Angels
- Postcards from the Edge
- The Bridges of Madison County
- One True Thing
- Music of the Heart
- The Devil Wears Prada
- Doubt, Julie & Julia, August: Osage County
- Into the Woods
- Florence Foster Jenkins
In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts, and in 2014, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Recently in 2017, this brilliant woman was awarded the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award.
Female Oscar winners #4: Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth’s legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the ongoing efforts of those she inspired.Bill Clinton
British-American actress, businesswoman, and humanitarian, Elizabeth Taylor began her career as a child and in the 1950s was one of the most famous stars of classical Hollywood cinema.
The American Film Institute named her as one of the greatest female screen legends. By the way, Liz Taylor was paid a record-breaking $1 million for that period to play the role in the historical movie Cleopatra that was the most expensive film made up to that point.
She received critical acclaim for her brilliant performances in this and many other movies. Elizabeth Taylor won two awards for Butterfield 8 and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”.
Female Oscar winners #5: Grace Kelly
American beloved actress Grace Patricia Kelly who later became Princess of Monaco after marrying Prince Rainier III is a true icon of style and femininity for many people.
She started her acting career at the age of 20 and appeared in a number of theatrical and live drama productions. For her outstanding performance in The Country Girl, she earned her Academy Award for Best Actress.
Other popular films include Mogambo, High Noon, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and High Society. Grace Kelly retired from acting at the age of 26 and began her duties as Princess of Monaco.
Her legacy as a fashion icon lives on till today and many modern designers, such as Tommy Hilfiger have described Grace Kelly as a fashion inspiration. She is known for introducing the “fresh-faced” look that comprised bright skin, natural beauty, and little makeup.
Female Oscar winners #6: Helen Mirren
Talented English actress, Helen Mirren has won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2007 for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen.
Also, she has won Olivier Award, the Tony Award, three BAFTA Awards, several Emmy Awards, Cannes Film Festival Award and many others.
Some of her most notable film roles include the film Cal, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, The Madness of King George, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, Gosford Park, Calendar Girls, The Last Station, Hitchcock and The Hundred-Foot Journey.
In 2012, Mirren was selected by artist Sir Peter Blake among his list of the British cultural icons in order to celebrate the British cultural figures of his life that he most admired. By the way, in 2013, Mirren was selected as one of several new models for Marks & Spencer’s ‘Womanism’ campaign that was subtitled as “Britain’s leading ladies”.
In this champagne Here Mirren appeared with some British women from various fields, such as pop singer Ellie Goulding, double Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Nicola Adams, and writer Monica Ali. What’s also noteworthy, in 2013 Mirren appeared in the list of fifty best-dressed over the 50s by The Guardian.
Female Oscar winners #7: Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett, beloved Australian actress has received international acclaim and many awards, including two Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, three BAFTA Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and several others.
She appeared in over 50 movies and came to international attention after her stunning roles in such remarkable movies as Elizabeth, The Aviator, Carol, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and many others.
By the way, she earned the Academy Award for Best Actress starring as Jasmine Francis in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Her role of Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” brought her the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role that made her the only actress to win an Oscar for depicting another Oscar-winning actor.
By the way, Blanchett has spoken about feminism and politics for many times sharing her views and being concerned of a fact that “a wave of conservatism sweeping the globe” is threatening women’s role in society nowadays.
Also, Blanchett has commented about the pressures women in Hollywood face today: “Honestly, I think about my appearance less than I did ten years ago. People talk about the golden age of Hollywood because of how women were lit then. You could be Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and work well into your 50s because you were lit and made into a goddess. Now, with everything being sort of gritty, women have this sense of their use-by date.”
Female Oscar winners #8: Halle Berry
America’s sweetheart actress Halle Berry won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the movie Monster’s Ball and for now, she is the only black woman to have won the award.
That was the year that two African-American performers won Oscars in leading roles for the first time in the same year (Denzel Washington won Best Actor in a leading role for the movie Training Day).
Notably, Halle Berry was one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood during the 2000s. Before becoming an actress, actually, her main activity was modeling.
Berry’s breakthrough film role was in the film Boomerang, The Flintstones, Bulworth and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She also appeared in the X-Men film series, the action crime thriller Swordfish, the spy film Die Another Day, the science fiction film Cloud Atlas and the crime thriller The Call.
By the way, in 2003 Halle Berry was ranked number one on People’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” list, also appearing in such lists as “100 Sexiest Women in the World” and “Sexiest Woman Alive”.
The number of black actresses that have won an Oscar is disturbingly low. Throughout 89 years of Academy Awards history that’s a pretty short list of 8 actresses (the total number of black actors and actresses who have an Oscar is sixteen).
To illustrate, here is the list of black actresses who have won Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind), Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Mo’Nique (Precious), Octavia Spencer (The Help), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Viola Davis (Fences).
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