As both The World’s Most Magical Celebration and Women’s History Month come to a close, we are taking one last look at the incredible 50-year history of Walt Disney World Resort and the innovative and inspiring women who have helped create happiness, wonder and inspiration for guests of all ages over the years.
From the early days of planning and construction to the ongoing development of new attractions and experiences, women have played key roles in bringing the magic of Disney to life. Here’s a look at just a few of the many trailblazing women who contributed to the rich history of our company and are helping to expand its boundless future.
Peggie Fariss is well-known around The Walt Disney Company, working an impressive 50 years – first at the Disneyland Resort, followed by a move to Florida to help lay the foundations of Walt Disney World. She was one of the few women on the project team for Magic Kingdom Park before becoming a Creative Development executive at Walt Disney Imagineering.
As an Imagineer, Peggie played a crucial part in designing EPCOT, including both World Showcase and Spaceship Earth. Her approach to creating different thematic tones for each pavilion or scene within the attraction helped establish some of the immersive experiences we know and love today. In fact, she was tasked with leading research for Spaceship Earth and ensured that every scene was brimming with authenticity and incredible detail. You can read more about her work in the book “A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of the Most Magical Place on Earth” available for purchase on shopDisney.com.
Since retiring, Peggie continues to serve as an inspiration to women in her field and at Walt Disney Imagineering – women like Morgan.
Morgan is one of the many talented women currently making significant impacts in their field. As a software developer in Walt Disney Imagineering, she supports attractions at Walt Disney World and other parks around the world.
Inspired to help the next generation of young women and STEM storytellers, Morgan is active in the community and recently participated in the annual Spark STEM Fest at the Orlando Science Center. At the event, she and other engineers introduced young students to careers in digital and technology through hands-on experiences and empowered them to think about their futures, build their talents and skills, and become who they imagine they can be.
Her advice to younger girls interested in STEM-related fields is not to be afraid to try new things and look for opportunities to get exposure to skills and classes you wouldn’t normally take. After all, she found computer coding through a class scheduling error in high school. At first, she was terrified, but by the end of the class, she was ready to pursue it as a lifelong passion and career.
While some women have made their mark building our theme parks and resorts, others are known for their inspiring leadership. Meg Crofton became the first woman to hold the title of President of Walt Disney World Resort in 2006. She later made history again as the first woman president of Disney’s Parks and Resorts Division, overseeing Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort and Disneyland Paris.
Meg devoted her career to encouraging and uplifting other cast members to pursue leadership roles and was known as a mentor to many. Her legacy was commemorated on Main Street, U.S.A. with a special window dedication and display above the Emporium, where her mission of “we start leaders on their journeys” lives on today.
Like Meg, Kartika Rodriguez has made her own history as the first Black woman to lead one of Walt Disney World’s four theme parks as Vice President of EPCOT. She joins Melissa Valiquette, Sarah Riles, Jackie Swisher and Linda Reid as the all-women team leading and protecting all four theme parks.
Her 20 years of hard work and dedication at Disney have been recognized many times, in part because of her consistent and passionate leadership in fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion. Her impact has opened doors for other women to follow in her footsteps, ensuring a brighter future for Disney and the broader community.
Carol Stein has been a pianist entertaining guests for over 30 years. Her unique approach to playing Disney classics, coupled with original compositions and humorous asides, made her a beloved fixture in the parks.
Carol’s talent and contagious spirit has brought joy to countless individuals over the years, and her long tenure with the company enabled her to establish deep connections with guests, co-workers and fellow musicians and entertainers.
“Making music is my way of making magic,” Carol said. “It’s how I give back to the world one day at a time.”
Carol is among many cast members that guests have loved getting to see perform over the years, alongside other women like longtime Voices of Liberty singer Debbie Johnson, who was beloved by her peers. Both of their legacies continue to inspire us every day!
Women have been making magic behind the scenes for many years, too. Another trailblazer is Heather Will-Browne, who holds the distinction of being the first woman on the horticulture team at Walt Disney World. She joined the company in 1971 and quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with, earning a reputation for her expertise.
Heather played an instrumental role in creating and maintaining the beautiful landscapes and gardens throughout our parks and resorts. Her contributions and accomplishments as a woman in her role paved the way for other women in the company, inspiring future generations to follow in her footsteps and pursue their passions in horticulture and beyond.
Flo Park is an industrial engineer here at Walt Disney World. “Industrial engineering (IE) is the branch of engineering that works with existing processes and systems to make them better and more efficient,” Flo explained. Her work is critical to ensuring that guests have the best experience possible.
Beyond her technical skills, Flo has served as a mentor to many other women and is an example of the importance of diversity in engineering and technology — even being one of the four groundbreaking women that make up the leading IE teams at our theme parks. Her leadership and expertise have helped to create a more inclusive and welcoming culture at Disney, continuing the path of all the women that came before her.
“As a woman in STEM, Women’s History Month means more than a time of recognition … it’s also a time for reflection,” Flo said. “I celebrate the month by recognizing the powerful women in my life and recognizing underrepresentation in multiple spheres. I celebrate all those that are living their full selves, consequently showing me what I can achieve with my own future!”
The women above are just a few of the thousands of women in Disney’s past, present and future making their mark. Their stories are a reminder of the amazing achievements made over the past 50 years and are an inspiration for the next 50. Of course, there are so many other amazing women who have played an important role at Disney World — from the veterinarians and animal care experts at Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the innovative and creative chefs cooking up magic across the resort. We will continue to honor the remarkable women and their enduring legacy of empowerment and progress by #CelebratingHERStory every day.
Great to see Disney recognizing these talented women in leadership!