Since 1888, the National Geographic Society has driven impact by identifying and investing in a global community of Explorers: leading scientists, educators, storytellers, conservationists, technologists, and many other changemakers who help us define some of the critical challenges of our time, drive new knowledge, advance new solutions, and inspire positive transformative change.
One of the Society’s first female Explorers was Eliza Scidmore, best remembered as the woman who helped bring Japan’s famous cherry trees to Washington, D.C. Shortly after the National Geographic Society was founded, she became the Society’s first female writer, photographer, and associate editor. In 1892, Scidmore also became our first female board member — further cementing her impressive legacy at National Geographic.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we are recognizing some of the women in the current National Geographic family who have also achieved incredible “firsts” as leaders, scientists, storytellers, and educators.
- Jill Tiefenthaler, Chief Executive Officer – Tiefenthaler made history as the first woman to serve as CEO of the National Geographic Society. She joined the organization in August 2020 and brings a profound understanding of the role that National Geographic plays in illuminating and protecting the wonder of our world. Tiefenthaler’s vision is to expand the Society’s role as a globally-recognized nonprofit that supports a diverse community of Explorers and staff around the globe. Within her first six months, she led the launch of the Society’s first full diversity, equity, and inclusion statement and is currently leading the development of a new strategic plan to advance the Society’s mission and impact.
- Susan Goldberg, Editorial Director and Editor in Chief – Goldberg was named the first female editor of National Geographic magazine since its first publication in October 1888. Before joining National Geographic, Goldberg also made history at Bloomberg News as the outlet’s first female bureau chief in D.C. She’s well recognized for her leadership in journalism and today, as the Editor in Chief of National Geographic and Editorial Director of National Geographic Partners, she leads all journalism across National Geographic.
- Jean Case, Chair of the Board of Trustees – Case is the first female Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Society. In her work with National Geographic and as CEO of the Case Impact Network and Case Foundation, which she founded after a successful career in the private sector, Case advocates for the importance of embracing a more fearless approach to innovation and bringing about transformational breakthroughs.
- Sylvia Earle, Explorer in Residence and Marine Biologist – Earle is a well-known pioneer in ocean exploration and has achieved a number of firsts over the course of her career: the National Geographic Society’s first female Explorer in Residence, the first person named Time’s “Hero for the Planet,” the first female chief scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and leader of the first all-female team of aquanauts. She also set the world record for the deepest untethered dive at 1,250 feet underwater in 1979.
- Asha de Vos, Explorer and Marine Biologist – De Vos is a Sri Lankan marine biologist, ocean educator, and pioneer of blue whale research within the northern Indian Ocean. Oceanswell, the nonprofit she established, is Sri Lanka’s first research and education organization and home to the first long-term study of whales in the region. De Vos is also the first Sri Lankan to hold a Ph.D. in marine mammal research, and is the first Pew Marine Fellow and National Geographic Emerging Explorer from Sri Lanka.
- Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Explorer and Wildlife Veterinarian – After Kalema-Zikusoka graduated from the University of London, she established the first veterinary department at the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Her expertise earned her the position of lead investigator of the first scabies outbreak in mountain gorillas, which she traced back to the people living around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and their inadequate access to health care. It led her to establish Conservation Through Public Health and partner with the National Geographic Society to address human and wildlife health together and to improve alternative livelihoods in communities sharing their habitats with gorillas.
- Kavita Gupta, Fellow and Educator – Gupta has quickly established her legacy at the National Geographic Society and as an exceptional educator. She is a 2018 Education Fellow, 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, and the first-ever recipient of the Gilbert M. Grosvenor Educator of the Year award—a testament to her innovative efforts to inform and inspire students.
These incredible women represent the past and present of National Geographic. Today, half of our grant recipients are women whose work is illuminating and protecting the wonders of our world. Our goal is to champion all voices equally—with a diverse group of staff, Explorers, educators, and storytellers contributing their critically important perspectives and ideas. If you want to hear more from the exceptional women we’re celebrating this month, follow us at @insidenatgeo.