TIME

2000s

2000

Sandra Day O’Connor

Deciding vote

The first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor was known for a centrist pragmatism even as she often voted with the conservative bloc and waded into some of the most contentious issues during 25 years on the bench. The most politically provocative case of her tenure came in 2000, when the Supreme Court determined the presidential election. In a 5-4 split along ideological lines, with O’Connor joining the conservative majority, the court ruling resulted in George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore. The divisive decision tainted the Justices with accusations of partisanship and tested Americans’ faith in their electoral system.

2001

Wangari Maathai

Seeding a movement

Wangari Maathai was the first woman in Central and East Africa to earn a Ph.D., but she learned the ways of the world by planting trees. In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement to teach peasant women livelihoods while reforesting urban areas. That wholesome pursuit was seen as a threat by Kenya’s land-grabbing politicians, and in 2001, Maathai spent International Women’s Day in jail, where she often found herself. But having found organic links between environmentalism, poverty reduction and democratic rights, she a year later won a Parliament seat with 98% of the vote.

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