MORE Magazine's 4th Annual Fierce List: 50 Inspiring Women

Do you have a dream in your heart or a belief in your gut? When you try to act on it, do you feel as if the obstacles are endless, the competition too great? If so, our 4th annual Fierce List is for you: 50 women so forceful and resourceful, untiring and inspiring, they'll jolt your brain, bolster your faith and feed your soul

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Cate the Great

Accepting the Best Actress Oscar for her knockout performance in Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett, 45, chided those who don’t recognize the power of films about women. “Audiences want to see them, and in fact they earn money,” she said. “The world is round, people!”

Cate Blanchett, Will Davidson/Trunk Archive

The Anti-Bully

Temitayo Fagbenle, 18, gets people talking. Her award-winning public-radio documentary, Sexual Cyberbullying: The Modern Day Letter A, has sparked a national conversation. The report, which she coproduced as a member of WNYC’s Radio Rookies internship program in New York City, focuses on “slut shaming”: Kids, usually boys, post intimate videos of girls; the guys are applauded by other guys, andthe girls’ reputations are ruined. After the doc aired, Fagbenle hosted a town hall meeting and live online chats. They drew so muchinterest from teens and educators that she launched an online anti-bullying organization called That Could Be Your Sister. Fagbenle, who graduated from high school in January, has said her college major will be “chillness with a minor in social justice.” What the world needs now, she told us, “is a way to send excess food to where others are starving.” 

Amy Pearl/WNYC

Raising the Barra

When General Motors promoted insider Mary Barra, 52, to serve as its CEO, she became the first female head of a major U.S. auto manufacturer. Her dad was a GM diemaker; Barra joined the company as a student, working her way up to VP of global product development. She handled the recent GM recalls with sincerity and grace. We’re glad to have her at the wheel. 

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

All Creatures Great and Small

Investigative photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, 37, reports on animal abuse worldwide, sometimes risking arrest to raise awareness of issues such as bullfighting in Spain, bear-bile farming in Asia, poaching in Africa and factory farming in the U.S., Europe and Australia. An illuminating volume of her photographs, We Animals, was published in December, and she was the subject of the recent documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine.

Lesley Marino

Voice of the dispossessed

Cambodian land-rights activist Yorm Bopha, 31, peacefully protested a development, on land acquired by a powerful senator, that displaced 20,000 people near her village, some forcibly. Jailed for a year on charges that human rights groups say were trumped up, she was released on bail and faces retrial.

Getty—Nicolas Axelrod/Getty Images


Jenna Lyons, 45, president and executive creative director of J.Crew, has made the company a fashion force (Anna Wintour and Michelle Obama are fans). Last fall she oversaw the opening of J.Crew’s first overseas flagship store, in London. This year she appeared on Girls as a magazine editor, real-life pal Lena Dunham’s onscreen boss. We like the generosity of the six-foot-tall tastemaker’s “whatever works for you” approach to style. 

Tommy Ton/Trunk Archive

The Art of Tarrt

The Goldfinch, the best-selling novel by Donna Tartt, 50, is one for the ages—a bighearted, brilliant, Dickensian exploration of love, loss and art that’s a page turner (all 784 pages of it). She’s written three books, one every 10 years, beginning with the much lauded The Secret History; we can’t wait to see what she’ll have for us in 2023.

Melanie Dunea/CPI Syndication

Our Money's on Her

Economist Janet Yellen, 67, became the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve System in its 100-year history. Please join us in feeling rational exuberance. 

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Running Shoes

Texas state senator Wendy Davis, 51, wore hot-pink Mizuno tennies during an 11-hour filibuster intended to block legislation restricting abortion rights. That tactic failed to stop the bill but catapulted Davis onto the national stage. Now she’s the Democratic candidate for governor in the 2014 race.

Leann Mueller


Bloody good show. On the FX hit American Horror Story: Coven, Jessica Lange, 65; Sarah Paulson, 39; and Angela Bassett, 55 (left)as head witch, her successor and voodoo queen, respectively—were scary, powerful and spellbinding. What Bassett’s mom taught her: “Be a woman of character. Who are you when no one is watching?” 

Michele K. Short/FX Networks/Courtesy Everett Collection

Sister Power

Because of former Peace Corps volunteer Molly Melching, 64 (top left), more than 7,000 communities in Senegal and seven other African nations have abandoned female genital cutting. According to the U.N., 125 million women and girls alive today have undergone the procedure, harmful to physical and emotional health. One of the missions of Tostan, the nonprofit that Melching founded (the word means breakthrough), is to educate women about the dangers of cutting; they become agents of change among their neighbors. In August, Amira Osman Hamed, 35 (bottom left), a Sudanese civil engineer and women’s-rights activist, went out in public with her hair uncovered, knowing she’d probably be arrested and sentenced to flogging, the punishment for “indecency” under Sudan’s public-order laws, which Hamed wants declared unconstitutional. Amnesty International is campaigning to have charges against Hamed dropped; her trial has been postponed. 

Molly Melching, Chip East/Reuters/Landov; Amira Osman Hamed, Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

Beauty Call

Leslie Blodgett, 51, is celebrating 20 years at Bare Escentuals, the once-struggling cosmetics company she turned into an industry giant. Her genius strategy: becoming a QVC star (she once sold $1.4 million worth of products in an hour). Shiseido bought Bare Escentuals for a whopping $1.7 billion; Blodgett has stayed on as executive chairman. 

Emily Shur/Corbis Outline

Star from the Start

Lupita Nyong’o, 31, was still a student at the Yale School of Drama when she was cast as the brutalized Patsey in 12 Years a Slave, her first film. That searing, nuanced performance earned her a slew of awards, including a Best Supporting Actress Oscar (and, of course, participation in history’s most retweeted selfie). Nyong’o, born in Mexico to Kenyan parents, raised in Kenya and now living in Brooklyn, has said, “The experience [of being in the film] has been an education, and I hope it’s the same for people who watch it.”

Management + Artists

Glean In

Stanford PhD Sarah Ramirez, 40, has returned to Pixley, the small town in Tulare County, California, where she grew up the daughter of farmworkers. Trained in public health, history and cultural studies, she wanted to rejoin her community and contribute to its health and well-being. Observing that many families could not afford or did not have access to the fresh fruits and vegetables growing abundantly in the area, she and her husband, a high school math teacher, cofounded a nonprofit called BeHealthyTulare. The organization gleans produce from orchards and backyard gardens and delivers it to the local food bank. Ramirez laughingly told NPR, “One of our team members says I should be wearing a T-shirt that says i have a phd and i pick fruit.” The nonprofit’s other programs include Food Lab, a healthy-cooking club; Huerto Esperanza, a cooperative community garden; and Cardioflex, a free weekly family workout.

Craig Kohlruss/Fresno Bee

Courting Controversy

Robert Nelson petitioned a Kansas City court for DNA testing unavailable when he was convicted of rape 30 years ago. His motion was denied. Sharon Snyder, 71, a court clerk for 34 years, gave Nelson’s family a copy of a successful motion for DNA testing (a public document they might not have found on their own) to use as a guide. Trying again worked: DNA tests led to Nelson’s exoneration—and Snyder was fired for violating rules against giving advice to a defendant. Snyder says if she had it to do over, she’d still help Nelson.

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Hammer Nails It

When Bonnie Hammer, 63, was named chair of the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group, Forbes magazine declared her the Queen of Cable. No wonder: She now runs USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen and several other channels, which together, says Forbes, account for half the company’s $4.1 billion cash flow. Under her leadership, USA ranked first in basic cable for seven years, which set a record. (We’re especially grateful for Monk, Psych, Burn Notice and In Plain Sight.) Hammer also created Characters Unite, USA Network’s award-winning national campaign for tolerance, which includes public service announcements, themed episodes and high school outreach programs.

Douglas Friedman/Trunk Archive

On a Roll

Left in a Russian orphan-age, paralyzed by spina bifida, Tatyana-McFadden, 25, was adopted when she was six by Deborah McFadden, then a U.S. commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Growing up, McFadden was encouraged by her mother to try sports. That was a good call: At the Sochi 2014 Paralympics, the athlete won a silver medal in Nordic skiing. In 2013 she became the first woman to earn six gold medals at the annual International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships. And she won the women’s wheelchair divisions of the Boston, Chicago, London and New York marathons—another first. A lawsuit she filed, with her family, resulted in the passage of a landmark Maryland law that expanded the rights of students with disabilities to compete in interscholastic sports events. She’s inspired by this quote from Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

Kerim Okten/Epa/Corbis

Semper Finally

In November, Pfc. Katie Gorz, 19; Pfc. Julia Carroll, 18; and Pfc. Christina Fuentes Montenegro, 25 (on right, with other soldiers), became the first three women to graduate from the Marine Corps School of Infantry at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. Fifteen women started the grueling two-month course, the first open to female marines. (Among them was Pfc. Harlee Bradford, who injured her leg but was one of 10 women who graduated in the next class.) Though they passed the same test as the men, the women can’t serve in infantry combat roles. But the first coed class is part of a study that may lead to a change in policy.

Travis Dove

Sofa, So Good

Thanks to biophysical chemist Arlene Blum, PhD, 69, your couch won’t kill you. In the 1970s, her research led her to campaign for government regulation of a cancer-causing chemical used as aflame retardant on kids’ sleepwear. When Blum, now director of the Green Science Policy Institute, discovered that the samesubstance was being used in sofas and baby products, she lobbied against the use of such chemicals in those items. A new California law went into effect in January. 

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Design for Giving

Last year, designer Tory Burch, 47, became the second-youngest self-made female billionaire in America (the youngest: Spanx’s Sara Blakely, bless her). Burch gives back: Her company has supported more than 30 nonprofits, and the Tory Burch Foundation partners with Accion and the Women’s Initiative for Self Employment to offer loans and mentoring to women entrepreneurs. Now Burch is working with Bank of America to expand the program.

Patrick Demarchelier

The Power of the Purse

When a congressional standoff over the federal budget led to a punishing 16-day government shutdown, women were instrumental in pullingmale colleagues back from the edge of the fiscal cliff. Senator Susan Collins, 61 (R-Maine, top left), put forward the first plan for ending the impasse, risking the ire of conservative constituents; she also started a bipartisan discussion group of 13 senators, six of them women, who forged a framework for the agreement that reopened the government. Senator Patty Murray, 63 (D-Washington, bottom left), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, led tough negotiations and worked with Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), her House counterpart, to hammer out a budget, averting another shutdown and a disastrous default. Said Collins: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that women were so heavily involved in trying to end this stalemate. Although we span the ideological spectrum, we are used to working together in collaborative ways.”

Susan Collins, Olivier Douliery/ABACAUSA.COM/Polaris; Patty Murray, Elaine Thompson/AP Photo

Out of this World

Adriftin space with George Clooney (coincidentally, both the premise of the film Gravity and our favorite fantasy), Sandra Bullock offered us a vivid and inspiring portrait of a woman overcoming her terror and emotional limitations to (slight spoiler alert) survive. In the process, she won our admiration, as well as Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. 

Steve Granitz/WireImage

Season's Best Binge Watch

Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, 44, is enjoying another high. With Orange Is the New Black, the Netflix series she devised based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, Kohan brings to the screen complicated women, different from white, privileged Piper in ethnicity and class, whose stories we don’t often get to see. The best advice she got from her mom about being fierce? “Don’t let anyone spit in your kasha.”

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Jane Dough

Itis a truth universally acknowledged that a 10-pound note must be in want of a woman to grace its flip side.(The queen is on the front of Bank of England bills, but all save one had famous men on the back.) When British journalist and feminist-activist Caroline Criado-Perez, 29, successfully pushed to get Jane Austen, 238, on the money, she got ugly rape and death threats on Twitter. The site, responding to petitions from Criado-Perez’s supporters, added a button that allows users to report abuse.

© Sarah Lee/Guardian News & Media Ltd.

Tough Call

Actress and activist Angelina Jolie’s mother died of cancer at 56, and Jolie, 38, carries a gene mutation that greatly increases her risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. So in 2013, the mother of six chose to have a preventive double mastectomy and breast reconstruction, surgeries she revealed in a New York Times Op-Ed piece. By going public with her difficult decision, she inspired a frank national discussion of a terrifying subject and helped other women make informed choices that are right for them. Jolie is happily back to work; she stars in Maleficent and directed Unbroken, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best seller, out later this year.

© Annie Leibovitz/Contact Press Images, Originally photographed for Vogue

The Truck Stops Here

Kendis Paris, 38, of Englewood, Colorado, is cofounder (with her mother, Lyn Thompson) and executive director of Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT). Human trafficking is a $32 billion–a–year business worldwide. In the U.S., says the FBI, truck and rest stops are where women and children are likely to be forced into prostitution or slave labor. TAT trains truckers and truck stop managers to recognize and help victims—using as an example a trucker who made a call that led to the rescue of several teens and the jailing of traffickers. Says Paris: “My mom saw that this industry could combat trafficking; someone just need to marshal their forces."

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Shattering the Wineglass Ceiling

Her parents were farmworkers; she picked grapes on school holidays. Now Amelia Morán Ceja, 58, is president of  Napa’s multimillion-dollar, award-winning Ceja Vineyards—the first Mexican-American woman to hold that title at a U.S. winery. “My mother’s quiet devotion and unconditional love gave me the confidence to succeed in this very competitive, hard to penetrate, male-dominated wine industry,” she says.

Eric Millette

Marathon Woman

Amanda North, 57 (center), a marketing executive from Woodside, California, was waiting for her daughter to cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon when two bombs exploded nearby. Ignoring her own injuries, she got help for the severely wounded woman next to her, Maryland preschool teacher Erika Brannock, who eventually lost her left leg. North held Brannock’s hand and looked into her eyes; doctors told North that keeping the profusely bleeding woman calm saved her life. “I did something I consider ordinary, not an act of courage,” North told us. “But people have said it reminded them that doing something small can make a big difference, and inspired them to do acts of kindness.” 

John Tlumacki/Boston Globe Via Getty Images


As the first female feature-film director in Saudi Arabia, where the sexes can’t mix at work, Haifaa Al Mansour, 39, had to shoot on location from inside a van. Worth the trouble: The slyly feminist Wadjda, written by Al Mansour, was her nation’s first-ever Oscar submission.

Mark Harrison/Camera Press/Redux

It's All Downhill from Here

...and we mean that in the best possible way. At the Sochi Winter Olympics, Mikaela Shiffrin, now 19, became the youngest person ever to nab an Olympic gold medal in slalom. We’re sure she’ll continue to triumph as a downhill racer, using the same serenely ferocious combination of training and visualization that earned her the gold.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

About Time

Nancy Gibbs, 54, is the first woman to become managing editor of Time magazine in its 91-year history—and the first for whom the digital audience is larger than the print readership. Addressing the staff after her promotion, Gibbs, who has written a record 174 cover stories for Time, called herself “the first managing editor to wear pumps—so far as we know.” 

Elizabeth D. Herman For TIME

Troop Grit

She didn’t shrink from duty: When Washington, D.C., psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen, PhD, 54, observed a mental-health crisis among our military men and women and their families, she founded the nonprofit Give an Hour. It’s a network of nearly 7,000 mental-health professionals who offer freeservices to U.S. troops, veterans and their families. In 2013, Give an Hour launched a program with the Army National Guard, and this year will expand that partnership with a $100,000 grant from the Veterans United Foundation.

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Different Drum

Linda Ronstadt, 67, revealed last year that she has Parkinson’s disease and can no longer sing. That’s sad—but we still have her crazy-wonderful canon of recordings, from rock hits to Mexican canciones. And she has embraced a new form of artistry: Her 2013 best-selling memoir, Simple Dreams, is smart and heartfelt.

Amy Sussman/Invision/AP

Wet and Wild

At the age of 64, after four previous attempts, Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Havana to Key West (110 miles, 53 hours) without a shark cage. “You never are too old to chase your dreams,” she declared when she hit the shore. We’re embroidering that on our beach towels. Her secret weakness: “I love Dots candy. When they do an autopsy on my 99-year-old body, they’re going to find all those Dots that were simply not digestible material.”

Nicole Bengiveno/New York Times/Redux

Tuff But Tender

In August a mentally ill 20-year-old man, off his meds and armed with an assault rifle, walked into the office of a Decatur, Georgia, elementary school and took a hostage: bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff, 47. Keeping her cool—and her kindness—Tuff talked the young man out of shooting up the school, which has more than 800 students from pre-K through fifth grade. The recording of the 911 call she made is touching and amazing: Tuff remains unruffled on the phone as she handles the tense negotiations between the police and the assailant. She calms the man with stories of her own hard times, expresses faith in his humanity and, after he surrenders, says she’s proud of him. Afterward, she tells the 911 dispatcher, “I’ve never been so scared in all the days of my life.” It didn’t show. Authorities credit her with preventing another Newtown tragedy.

Michael Habermann Courtesy Of Bethany House

Her Call Against Arms

After the 2013 shooting at the Washington, D.C., navy yard, Janis Orlowski, MD, 57, then chief medical officer at Medstar Washington Hospital Center, briefed the media: Eight people were wounded in the attack and 13 killed, including the gunman. Then she lost her composure. “There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate,” she said passionately. She says she spoke not only as a doctor but also as a mom and community member. 

Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

Rock of Wages

Madeline Janis, 54, fights for fair pay, safe workplaces and healthy neighborhoods. As cofounder and national policy director of the nonprofit Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, she’s had some breakthrough victories, including L.A.’s living wage ordinance, a national model. Her new project: Jobs to Move America, aimed at creating thousands of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. 

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Moving Words

We knew Glee’s Amber Riley, 28, could sing her heart out. Now it’s been proved she can also dance her ass off. On Dancing with the Stars, Riley was lively, lovely, light-footed, limber—and the season 17 winner. “I want to let women of all sizes know,” she said, lifting aloft her mirror-ball trophy, “that you can do whatever, whatever, whatever you put your mind to.” 

Mark Abrahams/Trunk Archive

Heir Heads

They’re fighting for the “Downton Abbey law.” A group of more than 200 titled Englishwomen, led by Lady Liza Campbell, 54, and calling themselves the Hares, wants to end male primogeniture, the passing of hereditary estates and titles to sons or male relatives, even if there’s an elder daughter (e.g., Lady Mary Crawley). If Parliament doesn’t act, the group says, it will go to the European Court of Human Rights. “Yes, it’s aristocrats,” Lady Campbell has said, “but it’s still sexism.”

Paul Stuart/Camera Press/Redux

The Write Stuff

A few months before she won the 2013 Nobel Prize for literature, Alice Munro, 82—mistress of the short story, brilliant teller of difficult truths, genius of no-nonsense empathy and gorgeously controlled prose—talked about laying down her pen. But after becoming a Nobelist, she seemed to reconsider. “I have promised to retire,” she said, “but now and then I get an idea.” We’re grateful for the revision. 

Andrew Testa/Panos

Law and Disorder

The highest-ranking female law officer in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Negar (she used one name) died in a drive-by shooting last fall—the third Afghan policewoman killed in three months. She was about 40.

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Smart Cookie, Better Nookie

Sex therapist Virginia Johnson, of the pioneering research team Masters and Johnson, died in July. Human Sexual Response, the 1966 book she coauthored, helped millions of Americans just do it. She was 88.

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

She Occupied Wall Street

Muriel Siebert, the first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (in 1967), heard the closing bell in 2013. Asked once how she handled obstacles, she said, “I put my head down and charge.” She was 84. 

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

The Iron Lady's Mettle

Her supporters and detractors agree: Margaret Thatcher was made of stern stuff. The first—and so far only—woman to be prime minister of Britain (she served from 1979 to 1990) died in 2013. She was 87.  

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

First published in the May 2014 issue

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