WTTW Celebrates Trailblazers, Women Who Changed the World

Daniel Hautzinger
Toni Morrison. Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders / Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Toni Morrison. Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders / Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

This summer, in honor of the centenary of adoption of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, PBS and WTTW are celebrating trailblazers: women who already have or are working now to change the world and explode societal limitations. From the suffragists of the early 19th century through legends like Mae West and Toni Morrison to young women of color entering politics today, discover our programming for a summer of trailblazers.

American Masters – Mae West: Dirty Blonde

Tuesday, June 16 at 8:00 pm and available to stream the same time


Mae West achieved great acclaim in every entertainment medium that existed during her lifetime, spanning eight decades of the 20th century. A full-time actress at seven, a vaudevillian at 14, a dancing sensation at 25, a Broadway playwright at 33, a silver screen ingenue at 40, a Vegas nightclub act at 62, a recording artist at 73, a camp icon at 85 -- West left no format unconquered. She possessed creative and economic powers unheard of for a female entertainer in the 1930s and still rare today. This documentary explores West's life and career, as she "climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong" to become a writer, performer, and subversive agitator for social change.

Prehistoric Road Trip

Wednesdays, June 17, 24, and July 1 at 9:00 pm and at wttw.com/prehistoricroadtrip


Get ready for an epic adventure through dinosaur country to discover the mysterious creatures and bizarre ecosystems that have shaped Earth as we know it. With popular YouTube personality and Field Museum Chief Curiosity Correspondent Emily Graslie as your guide, WTTW's new national series travels thousands of miles to visit some of the most active and dynamic fossil sites in the world. 

Learn more about paleontologists, paleoartists, the Field Museum's SUE, prehistoric mammals, and much more at wttw.com/prehistoricroadtrip, and get a behind-the-scenes look at Emily Graslie's trip filming the series.

Great Performances – Ann

Friday, June 19 at 9:00 pm and available to stream the same time


This film is a no-holds-barred portrait of Ann Richards, the legendary governor of Texas from 1990-94. This theatrical biography brings us face to face with a complex, colorful, and captivating character bigger than the state from which she hailed. Written and performed by Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men), "Ann" takes a revealing look at the impassioned woman who enriched the lives of her followers, friends, and family. 

Lucy Worsley's Royal Myths & Secrets

Sundays, June 21, 28, and July 5 at 7:00 pm and available to stream at the same time


Host and historian Lucy Worsley takes viewers across Britain and Europe to visit incredible locations where royal history was made. During Worsley’s tour through European history, viewers learn the true stories behind Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada, Queen Anne and the formation of Great Britain, Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution and more.

American Masters – Toni Morrison: The Pieces That I Am 

Tuesday, June 23 at 8:00 pm and available to stream the same time


This documentary is an intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller that examines her life, her works, and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career. Toni Morrison, late author of eleven novels and recipient of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for her novel, Beloved, as well as the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, among many other honors, leads an assembly of her peers, critics, and colleagues on an exploration of race, history, America and the human condition. 

Watch a young Morrison discuss her third novel, The Song of Solomon, in an archival interview from 1977 with WTTW's John Callaway. 

Great Performances – Gloria: A Life

Friday, June 26 at 9:00 pm and available to stream the same time


This film presents a detailed tapestry about one of the most inspiring and remarkable women of our time. Five decades after Gloria Steinem began raising her voice for women's equality and championing the equality rights of others, her vision and call to action are as urgent as ever. Steinem's life's work and philosophy on the necessity of conversation as a catalyst for change offers a path forward in a way that only live theater can fulfill. Christine Lahti leads a cast entirely comprised of women who perform multiple male and female characters.

POV – And She Could Be Next

Monday, June 29 and Tuesday, June 30 at 9:00 pm and available to stream at the same time


This two-part series, executive produced by Ava DuVernay, follows newly elected women of color and asks whether democracy itself can be preserved – and made stronger – by those most marginalized. Filmed between March 2018 – 2019, the series embeds inside candidate’s stories, including Stacey Abrams, Rashida Tlaib, and Skokie's Bushra Amiwala, as they interact with voters, conduct embattled campaigns, and balance work and personal life.

Firing Line with Margaret Hoover: Newcomers

Tuesday, June 30 at 10:30 pm and available to stream at the same time

Firing Line with Margaret Hoover. Photo: WNET/Joseph SinnottPhoto: WNET/Joseph Sinnott

Meet conservative women running for a first term in Congress: Young Kim of California, Ashley Hinson of Iowa and Lisa Scheller of Pennsylvania. Margaret Hoover explores their motivations for running, policies and visions for the Republican Party.

One Woman, One Vote

Thursday, July 2 at 9:00 pm and available to stream at the same time


This PBS documentary, narrated by Susan Sarandon, is a sweeping look at the women’s suffrage movement, from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s famous Seneca Falls call to arms to the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women voting rights. It also delves into the deep divisions within the suffrage movement, like the one over the question of whether to support voting rights for black men, and looks at regional differences within the movement and differences over whether to use militant tactics.

Antiques Roadshow: Women's Work 

Monday, July 6 at 8:00 pm and available to stream at the same time

Leila Dunbar (left) appraises a Girls Pro Baseball League collection, ca. 1950, in Eugene, Oregon. Photo: Jeff Dunn for WGBHPhoto: Jeff Dunn for WGBH

Celebrate trailblazing women in a special hour spotlighting outstanding contributions from female athletes, artists, activists and more who left an indelible mark on the world around us through their thought-provoking objects and accomplishments.

American Experience – The Vote

Monday, July 6 and Tuesday, July 7 at 9:00 pm and available to stream at the same time


The dramatic story of the hard-fought campaign waged by American women for the right to vote, a transformative cultural and political movement that resulted in the largest expansion of voting rights in U.S. history.

Secrets of the Dead: Viking Warrior Queen

Tuesday, July 7 at 8:00 pm and available to stream at the same time 


In 1878, an archaeologist excavated the remains of Birka, one of the oldest and richest Viking settlements in Sweden. He discovered the burial chamber of a warrior who sacked Europe in the 10th century. In 2017, a team of Swedish archaeologists astonished everyone by proving, through a DNA study, that the great warrior wasn’t a man, but a woman

By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South

Thursday, July 9 at 9:00 pm and available to stream at the same time


In August 1920 in Nashville, Tennessee, legislators cast the deciding vote to ratify the 19th Amendment, thus giving women in the United States the right to vote. Narrated by Rosanne Cash, By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South chronicles events leading up to that turbulent, nail-biting showdown.

Daring Women Doctors: Physicians in the 19th Century

Thursday, July 9 at 10:00 pm and available to stream at the time


Hidden in American history, all-female medical schools began to appear in the mid-19th century, long before women had the right to vote or own property. Daring Women Doctors highlights the intrepid, pioneering, and diverse women who faced hostility and resistance in their pursuit of medical educations.

American Masters – Unladylike2020

Friday, July 10 at 9:00 pm and available to stream at the same time


Explore the stories of pioneering women in American politics who advocated for suffrage and civil rights over 100 years ago, including the first women in the U.S. Congress and State Senate and a co-founder of the NAACP, among others. 

Meet even more astounding (and little-known) women from a century ago in a series of short profiles, featuring everyone from the first female African American pilot (Chicago's Bessie Coleman) to the first Chinese-American woman to vote to a Mexican-American botanist and adventurer

Independent Lens – Dolores

Friday, July 10 at 10:00 pm and available to stream


Meet the indomitable Dolores Huerta, who tirelessly led the fight for racial and labor justice alongside Cesar Chavez, becoming one of the most defiant - and unheralded - feminist activists of the 20th century.

We'll Meet Again: The Fight for Women's Rights

Tuesday, July 14 at 8:00 pmand available to stream


Join Ann Curry as two women search for friends and colleagues who fought for equal rights. One of the first female commercial pilots wants to thank her mentor, and an advocate hopes to find the woman who inspired her to join a movement.

Chicago Trailblazers

From left: Frances Willard, Grace Wilbur Trout, Jane Addams, and Ida B. Wells. Images: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons (Ida B. Wells)From left: Frances Willard, Grace Wilbur Trout, Jane Addams, and Ida B. Wells. Images: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons (Ida B. Wells)

Discover the stories of more trailblazers in Chicago, including through profiles, archival interviews, and more.


Trailblazers programming on WTTW is brought to you, in part, by Elizabeth B. Yntema in honor of her grandmother, Jean Busey Yntema. Support is also provided by BMO Harris Bank.

BMO Harris Bank