TIME MAGAZINE is exploring the most influential women of the past century. 2020 marks 100 years since women gained the right to vote in the United States. To recognize the milestone that transformed women’s individual and collective agency, the magazine launched a project called 100 Women of the Year.

Introducing the project, Nancy Gibbs, an editor-at-large who previously served as editor-in-chief of Time (2013-17), wrote, “Week after week, year after year, the magazine featured an individual on the cover, often from Washington but also from Wall Street or Hollywood, from foreign palaces and humming factories, all outstanding and almost always men.”


1969: Marsha Johnson by Mickalene Thomas for TIME; Johnson: Arlene Gottfried—Daniel Cooney Fine Art; Sign: Diana Davies © NYPL/Art Resource, NY


To help remedy the situation, Time revisited the past century and commissioned new covers by artists and illustrators such as Bisa Butler, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Mickalene Thomas.

(89 new covers were created and the 11 covers of women named Person of the Year were left intact. 49 original portraits were commissioned. Many subjects were portrayed using existing photography.)

Each of the covers is accompanied by a profile. The magazine is telling the stories of distinguished and pioneering women from around the world whose actions, talents, and courage changed the arc of history.

THE EARLIEST COVER for 1920 features five women suffragists, including Ida B. Wells. Subsequent covers focus on Bessie Smith (1923), Mary McLeod Bethune (1934), Billie Holiday (1939), and Recy Taylor (1944).

Dedicated to “The Bus Riders,” the 1955 cover by Philadelphia-based Lavett Ballard illustrates the history of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on Dec. 1, another black woman and two teenagers had objected to giving up theirs in the months prior. Claudette Colvin, 15, had done so in March; Aurelia Browder, 36, in April; and Mary Louise Smith, 18, in October.

Within hours after Parks was arrested, flyers were distributed calling for a bus boycott. The leaflets read: “Another Negro Woman has been arrested and thrown into jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. Don’t ride the buses.”

Ballard illustrated the cover for the boycott campaign with a painted collage on reclaimed wood fencing. “The use of fences is a symbolic reference to how fences keep people in and out, just as racial and gender identities can do the same socially,” Ballard told Time.

“The use of fences is a symbolic reference to how fences keep people in and out, just as racial and gender identities can do the same socially.”
— Lavett Ballard

1955: The Bus Riders by Lavett Ballard for TIME; AP (2), Getty (4)


BLACK WOMEN APPEAR on a succession of covers at the end of the 1960s: Zenzile Miriam Makeba (1967), Aretha Franklin (1968), and Marsha P. Johnson (1969). Gloria Steinem was selected for 1970 and then Angela Davis graces the 1971 cover.

Thomas used her signature collage technique to make a portrait of Johnson, a self-described transvestite and drag queen. After the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn, the legendary gay bar in Greenwich Village, she became of part of the resistance and an active force in the decades-long fight for LBGTQ rights.

“Collaging allows me to contemplate the processes around building an identity, a sense of self,” Thomas told Time. “This work first and foremost celebrates her as a person that radiated self-pride, vivacity, glamour and fearlessness, but also recognizes her legacy as a face of resistance.”

More recent covers are dedicated to bell hooks (1984), Anita Hill (1991), Toni Morrison (1993), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006), and First Lady Michelle Obama (2008).

Los Angeles-based Monica Ahanonu illustrated the cover of hooks and Hill’s portrait was created by Alexis Franklin, a freelance artist in Dallas. Both illustrators are in their 20s.

Serena Williams (2003), Oprah Winfrey (2004); Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi (2013), the women who started Black Lives Matter movement; and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (2014), are also among the cover subjects in the 2000s and 2010s.

TODAY IS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY. Time’s 2001 cover features Kenyan Environmental Activist Wangari Maathai (1940-2011). The first African woman and first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize (2004), she founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. In 2001, Maathai spent International Women’s Day in jail. She was arrested for planting trees in Nairobi.

Employing quilting and appliqué techniques, Butler used African Dutch-wax cottons, silk, and velvet to make Maathai’s portrait. Based in Orange, N.J., her work is currently on view in “Bisa Butler: The Storm, the Whirlwind and the Earthquake” at Claire Oliver Gallery in New York City. “Bisa Butler: Portraits,” her first solo museum exhibition, opens March 15 at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, N.Y., and will travel to the Art Institute of Chicago in September.

“I have admired [Maathai] from afar for years,” Butler told Time. “This whole experience brought me closer to her legacy and closer to my own purpose.” CT


FIND MORE about the artists Monica Ahanonu, Lavett Ballard, Bisa Butler, Alexis Franklin, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Mickalene Thomas on their websites or Instagram


2001: Wangari Maathai by Bisa Butler for TIME; Clemens Scharre—The Right Livelihood Foundation


1991: Anita Hill by Alexis Franklin, Mark Reinstein—Corbis/Getty


1984: Portrait of bell hooks by Monica Ahanonu for TIME


2014: Painting of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter by Toyin Ojih Odutola for TIME


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