50 Famous Firsts in American Women's History

Women’s History Month is a commemoration that celebrates the contribution of women to historical events and achievements.

Mar 18, 2019

Throughout history in every culture, extraordinary women or events have pushed society to dream bigger, to move forward, and to create a better future. Women have always been the driving force for progressive change.

This is the case in the United States. The foremothers who paved the way showed that a woman belonged in the voting booth, in institutions of higher education and the military, in professional sports and in space, the House, the Senate and the Presidency.

In honor of Women's History Month, here are 50 American Historic firsts that helped shaped the country and the world and made it a better and more equal place.

1776 - Margaret Corbin becomes the first woman to be recognized as a soldier in the American Revolutionary War and even receives a pension for it. Since Corbin, women have gone on to serve in all branches of the military and have even reached top ranks.

1795 - Anne Parrish establishes The House of Industry in Philadelphia, the first charitable organization for women in America.

1804 - Sacajawea, a bilingual Native American from the Shoshone tribe becomes the first woman explorer to join the Lewis & Clark expedition to explore the new land that was acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.

1824 - The first public high school for girls opens in Worcester, Massachusetts.

1837 - Oberlin College in Ohio becomes the first college to admit female students. In addition to their studies, they also have to do the laundry and cook meals for their male counterparts.

1837 - The Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, in Massachusetts opens to provide higher education for women. Most of its early graduates become teachers, one of the few fields open to women at the time. It was the culmination of years of work by founder Mary Lyon. The rest of the Seven Sisters women's colleges were opened between 1865 and 1893.

1848 - The first Women's Rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York with 200 women in attendance. It was organized by suffragettes Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

1849  -  Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to earn a medical degree in America. She graduates first in her class at New York's Geneva College.

1850 - Harriet Tubman, a former slave who escaped to the North, becomes the first American woman to be a conductor on the underground railroad to help slaves escape. She made 13 missions to rescue slaves.

1866 - Mary Walker becomes the first woman in America to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. She served as a surgeon for the Union army in Washington DC and crossed enemy lines to come to the aid of civilians. She was captured and became a prisoner of war in Richmond, Virginia.

1869 - Arabella Mansfield, the first female lawyer in America, is admitted to the Iowa bar in.

1869 - Wyoming becomes the first US state to grant women the right to vote and Louisa Ann Swain becomes the first woman to vote in a general election.

1872 - Victoria Claflin Woodhull – a leader of the suffragist movement – becomes the first woman presidential candidate in the US. She was nominated by the National Radical Reformers. Due to the fact that she was a woman and only 34-years-old her candidacy was not taken seriously.

1874 - The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is founded in Hillsboro, Ohio to improve the morality of the nation. The organization is best known for its attempts to rid society of alcohol, but it was also against tobacco and fought for labor reform, public health, sanitation, and women's right to vote.

1878 - Susan Anthony and other suffragettes present a bill to Congress that would give women the right to vote.

1881 - The American Red Cross is founded by Clara Barton. She risked her life as a nurse helping soldiers during the American Civil War. Barton worked for ten years to establish this foundation, which provides peacetime disaster relief as well as wartime assistance.

1900 - Margaret Abbott becomes the first American woman to bring home the gold in an Olympic event (Golf).

1908 - The first Mother's Day is observed; Anna Jarvis was the driving force behind official recognition of this holiday.

1909 - The first International Women's Day, is proclaimed as a day to honor the world's working women.

1912 - The first Girl Scouts troop in America is founded in Savannah, Georgia, by Juliette Gordon Low. After all, girls just wanna have fun, too.

1916 - Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives.

1916 - Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic in New York to give women control of their own bodies. Her clinic was the origins of Planned Parenthood.

1920  - The Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution is ratified on August 26, finally granting women the right to vote in national elections.

1920   The League of Women Voters – an organization to help women take a larger role in public affairs – is founded in Chicago, Illinois by Carrie Chapman Catt.

1922 Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia becomes the first woman to serve in the US Senate. She was appointed by the governor of Georgia after the death of her husband. She served for only one day.

1925 - Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming becomes the first elected female state governor. Like Rebecca Latimer Felton, she was elected to complete the term of her husband who died in office. She was nominated for re-election but was defeated in a very close race.

1931 - Jane Addams becomes the first American woman Nobel prize winner. She shared the prize for peace with Nicholas Murray Butler. More women would follow but only 52 women from around the world have won Nobel prizes.

1932 - Hattie Caraway of Arkansas becomes the first woman elected to the US Senate. She won a special election to fill the remaining term of her late husband. In November that year, she won the election for a full term.

1932 - American aviator Amelia Earhart begins the first solo flight by a woman across the Atlantic Ocean. It took 14 hours and 56 minutes to fly from Newfoundland to Ireland. During a later attempt to fly around the world, she disappeared over the Pacific and her plane and remains have never been found.

1933 - Frances Perkins is appointed Secretary of Labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making her the first woman member of a presidential cabinet. She was an architect of the New Deal. More women would follow in her historic footsteps.

1941-1945 - Rosie the Riveter becomes the iconic symbol of the patriotic women who went to work in the factories, shipyards, and defense industries during World War II. After the war, when the men returned, women’s job opportunities became much narrower.

1949 - Eugenie Anderson is the first woman to be a United States Ambassador. She served as ambassador to Denmark under President Harry Truman.

1955 - Rosa Parks, an activist with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), refuses to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama so that a white man could have it. Parks was arrested and the Montgomery black community launched a bus boycott that lasts for more than a year. In 1965 the supreme court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional.

1964 - Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race or sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was created to enforce the new law.

1966 The National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded. The organization’s first president was Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique.

1969 Shirley Chisholm of New York becomes the first African-American woman to serve in Congress. She served in the US House of Representatives from 1969 to 1983. In 1972, she was the first woman to run for president from a major party (Democratic party).

1972 - Ms. Magazine is first published in July 1972. It ran earlier as a sample insert in New York magazine. The first 300,000 copies are sold out in 8 days. It was co-founded by activists Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes.

1972 – Title IX of the Educational amendment prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive Federal financial assistance. This included sports funding.

1972The Equal Rights Amendment is approved by the US Congress but sadly does not have enough states ratify it, so it did not become the law of the land.

1981 Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman Supreme Court Justice, is appointed by President Ronald Reagan. There have been three additional female Supreme Court Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

1983 - Sally Ride becomes the first American woman astronaut to go to space. She was on a six-day mission aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

1984 - Geraldine Ferraro, a Democratic congresswoman from Queens, New York, becomes the first woman nominated by a major political party as the candidate for vice president. She ran with Walter Mondale, but they were defeated by the incumbent president Ronald Reagan.

1985 - Wilma Mankiller becomes the first woman elected chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

1987 - Women's History Month, a month-long national celebration in the United States is declared by President Ronald Reagan.

1997 - Madeleine Albright, the first woman US Secretary of State, is sworn in under President Bill Clinton. She became the highest-ranking woman in the United States government.

2007 - Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. She is currently the highest-ranking woman politician in American history.

2008 - Democratic senator from New York and former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes the first woman to win a major American party's presidential primary. She ended up losing the nomination to President Barack Obama and served as his Secretary of State.

2008 - Sarah Palin, then-governor of Alaska becomes the first female vice presidential nominee of the Republican party.

2012 - US senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, and US representatives Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire are elected as the first all-woman congressional delegation in the history of the US.

2016 - Hillary Clinton is formally nominated at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, becoming the first woman to be nominated for president by a major US political party.

Looking to the future, four women have announced or are seriously considering they are running for president in the 2020 election. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Kamala Harris of California, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Hopefully, we will be celebrating another historical first soon.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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