The first instance of a Women's World Cup dates back to 1970, with the first international tournament taking place in Italy in July 1970. This was followed by another unofficial tournament the following year in Mexico, where won the title after defeating in the final. In the mid-1980s, the Mundialito was held in Italy across four editions with both and England winning two titles.
Several countries lifted their ban on women's football in the 1970s, leading to new teams being established across Europe and North America. After the first international women's tournaments were held in Asia in 1975 and Europe in 1984,
Ellen Wille declared that she wanted better effort from the FIFA Congress in promoting the women's game. This came in 1988 in the form of an invitational tournament in China as a test to see if a global women's World Cup was feasible. Twelve national teams took part in the competition – four from UEFA, three from , two from CONCACAF, and one each from CONMEBOL, and . After the opening match of the tournament between and Canada was attended by 45,000 people, the tournament was deemed a success, with crowds averaging 20,000. , who was the , defeated , 1–0, in the final, while clinched third place by beating in a penalty shootout. The competition was deemed a success and on 30 June FIFA approved the establishment of an official World Cup, which was to take place in 1991 again in China. Again, twelve teams competed, this time culminating in the United States defeating Norway in the final, 2–1, with Michelle Akers scoring two goals.
The 1995 edition in Sweden saw the experiment of a time-out concept throughout the tournament which was later tightened mid-tournament to only occur after a break in play. The time-out only appeared in the one tournament which saw it scrapped. The final of the 1995 edition saw Norway, who scored 17 goals in the group stage, defeat Germany, 2–0, to capture their only title.
In the 1999 edition, one of the most famous moments of the tournament was American defender Brandi Chastain's victory celebration after scoring the Cup-winning against . She took off her jersey and waved it over her head (as men frequently do), showing her muscular torso and sports bra as she celebrated. The 1999 final in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, had an attendance of 90,185, a world record for a women's sporting event.
The 1999 and 2003 Women's World Cups were both held in the United States; in 2003 China was supposed to host it, but the tournament was moved because of SARS. As compensation, China retained its automatic qualification to the 2003 tournament as host nation, and was automatically chosen to host the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup. Germany hosted the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, as decided by vote in October 2007. In March 2011, FIFA awarded Canada the right to host the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. The 2015 edition saw the field expand from 16 to 24 teams.
During the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, both of and Homare Sawa of appeared in their record sixth World Cup, a feat that had never been achieved before by either female or male players. Christie Pearce is the oldest player to ever play in a Women's World Cup match, at the age of 40 years. In March 2015, FIFA awarded France the right to host the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup over South Korea.