“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.”
― Muhammad Ali Jinnah
A brief and incomplete history of women firsts in our lifetime:
Margaret Abbott was the first American woman to win first place in an Olympic event. Specifically, she was the first American woman, and the second woman overall, to win first place at the Olympics in golf.
Carro Clark was the first American woman to establish, own and manage a book publishing firm. The C. M. Clark Company opened in Boston in 1900.
May Sutton was the first American woman to win Wimbledon.
Dorothy Tyler was the first known woman in America to be a jockey.
The first Mother’s Day was observed; Anna Jarvis is noted as the driving force for recognition of this holiday.
The first U.S. Navy nurses, known as the Sacred Twenty, were appointed; they were all women, and were the first women to formally serve in the U.S. Navy.
Poet Julia Ward Howe was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Alice Stebbins Wells was the first American-born woman to be sworn in as a police officer, which occurred in Los Angeles.
Florence Lawrence was America’s first movie star.
Harriet Quimby was the first woman to be licensed as an airplane pilot in America.
Girl Guides of America (now Girl Scouts of the USA) was established as the first voluntary organization for girls.
Caresse Crosby was the first woman to patent a brassiere.
The first birth control clinic was opened by Margaret Sanger.
Jeannette Rankin was the first woman in America to be elected to Congress.
Loretta Perfectus Walsh was the first woman to enlist in the United States Navy.
Annette Adams was the first female assistant United States attorney general, “…the highest judicial position any woman in the world had ever held”.
Opha May Johnson was the first woman to enlist in the United States Marines.
Twin sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker of the Naval Coastal Defense Reserve were the first uniformed women to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Sara Teasdale was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (for her work Love Songs.)
Marie Luhring was the first woman in America to become an automotive engineer.
Edith Wharton was the first woman in America to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Margaret Gorman was the first “Miss America”.
Alice Mary Robertson was the first woman to preside over the House of Representatives; however, she was opposed to women’s suffrage.
Zona Gale was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for Miss Lulu Bett.)
Rebecca Felton was sworn in as the first female Senator in the United States.
Florence King became the first woman to win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (Crown v. Nye).
Juliana R. Force was the first woman to present folk art in an official public showing exhibition in America.
Nellie Tayloe Ross was the first woman in America to be elected governor, and the only one since that has served in Wyoming.
An All-Woman Supreme Court in Texas, the first woman-majority state Supreme Court in U.S. history, sits for a five-month special sitting on a single case, disbanding shortly afterward.
Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to swim across the English Channel.
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic ocean.
Genevieve R. Cline was the first woman appointed as a United States federal judge.
Ellen Church was the first female flight attendant in America. She suggested the idea of female nurses on board to Boeing Air Transport, claiming that if people felt safer they would fly more.
Jane Addams was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Peace; she shared the prize with Nicholas Murray Butler.
Hattie Caraway was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve as a cabinet member, under Franklin Roosevelt, and as such the first woman to serve as Secretary of Labor.
Gertrude Atherton was the first woman to be president of the (American) National Academy of Literature.
Lettie Pate Whitehead was the first woman to serve as a director of a major corporation (The Coca-Cola Company).
Grace Hudowalski was the ninth person and first woman to climb all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks.
Pearl S. Buck was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Lois Fegan Farrell was the first female reporter to cover a professional hockey team in America.
Anna Leah Fox was the first woman to receive the Purple Heart, which she received for being wounded in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Nellie Neilson was the first woman to be president of the American Historical Association.
Edith Ellen Greenwood was the first woman to receive the Soldier’s Medal.
Cordelia E Cook was the first woman to receive both the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.
Ann Baumgartner was the first woman to fly a jet aircraft, the Bell YP-59A on October 14, 1944.
Gerty Cori was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; she shared the prize with Carl Ferdinand Cori and Bernardo Alberto Houssay. Although born in Prague, Gerty Cori is considered the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in medicine. She had become a U.S. citizen in 1928.
Esther McGowin Blake was the first woman in the U.S. Air Force. She enlisted in the first minute of the first hour of the first day regular Air Force duty was authorized for women on July 8th, 1948.
Georgia Neese Clark was the first woman Treasurer of the United States, under President Harry Truman.
Eugenie Anderson was the first woman to be a United States Ambassador, under President Harry Truman.
Shirley Dinsdale was the first recipient of the Emmy Award.
Sara Christian was the first woman to compete in a major-league stock car race, competing in NASCAR’s inaugural Strictly Stock (now Sprint Cup Series) event.
16 December: Anna Der-Vartanian became the U.S. Navy’s first female master chief petty officer; this made her the first female master chief in the Navy, as well as the first female E-9 in the entire U.S. Armed Services. She received a personal letter from then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower congratulating her on her accomplishment.
Paula Ackerman was the first woman in America to perform rabbinical functions.
Arie Taylor became the first black person to be a U.S. Women’s Air Force classroom instructor.
Helen E. Myers of Lancaster, Pa., a 1941 graduate of Temple University, was commissioned as the U.S. Army Dental Corps’ first woman dental officer.
Fae Adams was the first female to receive regular commission as a doctor in the United States Army.
Oveta Culp Hobby was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
Toni Stone, also known by her married name Marcenia Lyle Alberga, was the first of three women to play Negro league baseball, and thus the first woman to play as a regular on an American big-league professional baseball team.
Ruby Bradley, upon leaving Korea, was given a full-dress honor guard ceremony, the first woman ever to receive a national or international guard salute.
Betty Robbins, born in Greece, was the first female cantor (hazzan) in the 5,000-year-old history of Judaism. She was appointed cantor of the reform Temple Avodah in Oceanside, New York in 1955, when she was 31 and the Temple was without a cantor for the High Holidays.
Clotilde Dent Bowen became the U.S. Army’s first black female physician to attain the rank of colonel.
Tenley Albright was the first woman in America to win the Olympic gold medal in figure skating.
Decoy: Police Woman was the first television show to feature a female police officer, and in fact the first to be built around a female protagonist.
Arlene Pieper became the first woman to officially finish a marathon in the United States when she finished the Pikes Peak Marathon in Manitou Springs, Colorado, in 1959.
Wilma L. Vaught became the first woman to deploy with a Strategic Air Command operational unit.
Master Gunnery Sergeant Geraldine M. Moran became the first female Marine to be promoted to E-9.
The first female U.S. Marine was promoted to Sergeant Major (Bertha Peters Billeb).
Pearl Faurie became the first SPAR in the U.S. Coast Guard advanced to E-9.
Maria Goeppert Mayer was the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics; she shared the prize with Eugene Paul Wigner and J. Hans D. Jensen.She was born in Poland, but became a U.S. citizen in 1933.
Jerrie Mock was the first woman to fly solo around the world, which she did in a Cessna 180. The trip ended April 17th, 1964, in Columbus, Ohio,and took 29 days, 21 stopovers and almost 22,860 miles.
Carol Doda was the first woman in America to perform as a topless entertainer.
Isabel Benham was the first female partner in R.W. Pressprich & Co.’s 55-year history, which also made her the first female partner at any Wall Street bond house.
Alice K. Kurashige became the first Japanese-American woman to be commissioned in the United States Marine Corps.
Rachel Henderlite was the first woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church in the United States; she was ordained by the Hanover Presbytery in Virginia.
Roberta Louise “Bobbi” Gibb was the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon.
Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry.
Muriel Siebert was the first female member of the New York Stock Exchange.
Carol Doda was the first woman in America to perform as a bottomless entertainer.
Diane Crump was the first woman in America to ride in the Kentucky Derby, she placed fifteenth.
Patricia Palinkas was the first woman to play professionally in an American football game.
Anna Mae Hays and Elizabeth P. Hoisington were the first women in the United States promoted to brigadier general.
Sally Priesand was ordained on June 3rd, 1972, by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s president Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk at Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati, making her the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in the United States and only the second woman ever to be formally ordained in the history of Judaism.
Katharine Graham was the first female Fortune 500 CEO, as CEO of the Washington Post company.
Tonie Nathan was the first woman in America to receive an electoral vote in a presidential election.
Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to receive a NHRA license to drive Top Fuel dragsters, the highest level of the drag racing sport.
Jeannette Piccard was the first female balloon pilot licensed in the United States; she was also the first woman to ascend to the stratosphere.
Ella T. Grasso was the first woman to be elected a U.S. governor who was not the wife or widow of a governor; she was elected governor of Connecticut.
Barbara Ostfeld-Horowitz was the first female cantor to be ordained in Reform Judaism in 1975.
Carla Hills was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Shirley Black, aka Shirley Temple, was the first woman to be chief of protocol, which she was for President Gerald Ford.
Lucy Giovinco was the first female in America to win the AMF Bowling World Cup.
Women first began to attend the U.S. service academies.
Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to win a NHRA national event.
Emily Howell Warner was the first woman to become an American airline captain.
Janet Guthrie was the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500, and the first woman to lead a NASCAR Winston Cup Series (now Sprint Cup Series) event.
Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to win a NHRA championship, in the Top Fuel category.
Barbara McClintock was the first woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and since she was American, she was the first American woman to do so.
Juanita M. Kreps was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Commerce.
Janet Guthrie was the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500.
Marcia Frederick, at the age of fifteen, was the first woman in America to win World gold in gymnastics.
Mary E. Clarke was the first woman to achieve the rank of major general in the United States Army.
Susan B. Anthony was the first woman in America to be depicted on a coin.
Patricia R. Harris was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Shirley Hufstedler was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Education.
Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to be a member on the United States Supreme Court.
Elizabeth Dole was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Transportation.
Sally Ride was the first American woman in space.
Vanessa L. Williams was the first African-American winner of the Miss America pageant (Miss America 1984).
Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman in America to run for vice president on a major-party platform.
Joan Benoit won the first women’s Olympic marathon.
Kathryn D. Sullivan was the first American woman to conduct a spacewalk.
Penny Harrington was appointed as Chief of Police, making her the first woman to lead a major-city police department.
Libby Riddles was the first woman to win the Iditarod.
Ann Bancroft was the first woman to reach the North Pole by foot and dogsled, “…she became the first known woman to cross the ice to the North Pole.”
Nancy Lieberman joined the United States Basketball League (USBL), thus becoming the first woman to play in a men’s professional basketball league.
Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Shawna Robinson was the first woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned stock car race, winning in the Charlotte/Daytona Dash Series at New Asheville Speedway.
Jennifer York was the first woman to form a Christian rock band and the first such band that was all-female, Rachel Rachel.
Geraldine Morrow was the first female president of the American Dental Association.
Minnesota’s Supreme Court becomes the first woman-majority state supreme court to be appointed and sit for a regular session.
Manon Rhéaume was the first woman to play in a National Hockey League game; although she was Canadian, “She played goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning…”
Mona Van Duyn was the first woman named US poet laureate.
Halli Reid was the first woman to swim across Lake Erie, swimming from Long Point, Ontario, to North East, Pennsylvania, in 17 hours.
Janet Reno was the first woman to serve as Attorney General of the United States under President Bill Clinton.
Hazel R. O’Leary was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Energy.
Judith Rodin was the first permanent female president of an Ivy League University (specifically, the University of Pennsylvania.)
Roberta Cooper Ramo was the first female President of the American Bar Association.
Madeleine Albright, born in Prague, was the first woman to serve as Secretary of State; she served under President Bill Clinton.
Liz Heaston was the first woman to play and score in a college football game, kicking two extra points in the 1997 Linfield vs. Willamette football game.
Nancy Dickey was the first female president of the American Medical Association.
Hazel J. Harper was the first female president of the National Dental Association.
Julie Taymor was the first woman to win a Tony award for best director of a musical.
Carly Fiorina was the first woman to lead a fortune 50 company (Hewlett-Packard)
Spring – Kathleen A. McGrath became the first woman to command a U.S. Navy warship at sea.
1 June – Deborah Walsh became the first woman in the U.S. Coast Guard promoted to Chief Warrant officer in Aviation Engineering (AVI).
1 July – Regina Mills became the U.S. Navy’s first female Aviation Deck LDO.
July – Lucille “Pam” Thompson became the first African-American woman to serve as a U.S. Coast Guard Special Agent. She served in this capacity until July 2004.
Margaret C. Wilmoth, United States Army Reserve, was promoted to Brigadier General, becoming the first nurse and first woman to command a medical brigade as a general officer.
Gale Norton was the first woman to serve as Secretary of the Interior.
Ann Veneman was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Agriculture.
Stephanie Ready was the first female coach of a men’s professional league team in 2001, as an assistant coach for the now defunct Greenville Groove of the National Basketball Development League (the minor league of the National Basketball Association).
Melanie Wood was the first American woman and the second woman overall to be named a Putnam Fellow.
Danica Patrick was the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500.
Nancy Pelosi was the first female Speaker of the United States House of Representatives; she is currently the highest ranking woman politician in American history.
Hillary Clinton was the first woman to win a major American party’s presidential primary for the purposes of delegate selection when she won the primary in New Hampshire on January 8.(Shirley Chisholm’s prior “win” in New Jersey in 1972 was in a no-delegate-awarding, presidential preference ballot that the major candidates were not listed in and that the only other candidate who was listed had already withdrawn from; the actual delegate selection vote went to George McGovern.) She also was the first woman to be an American presidential candidate in every primary and caucus in every state.
Danica Patrick was the first woman to win an IndyCar Series by winning the 2008 Indy Japan 300.
Sarah Palin was the first female vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party.
Ann E. Dunwoody was the first female four-star general in the U.S. Army.
The New Hampshire Senate became the first state legislative body to hold a majority of female members (13 out of 24).
Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing, for The Hurt Locker (2008).
Elinor Ostrom was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, and since she was American, the first American woman to do so; she shared the prize with Oliver E. Williamson.
Janet Napolitano was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security.
Nancy Lieberman became the coach of the Texas Legends in the NBA Development League, an affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks, thus making her the first woman to coach a professional men’s basketball team.
Kathleen O’Loughlin was the first female executive director of the American Dental Association.
Jeanne Shaheen became the first woman to hold the offices of U.S. Senator and state Governor, being elected as governor of New Hampshire from 1997 to 2003 and U.S. senator for New Hampshire since 2009.
Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director, the BAFTA Award for Best Direction, and the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Director, all for The Hurt Locker (2008).
Jennifer Gorovitz was the first woman to lead a large Jewish federation in America (specifically, the Jewish Community Federation, based in San Francisco).
Angella Reid was the first female White House Chief Usher.
Elizabeth MacDonough was the first female appointed as Parliamentarian of the United States Senate.
Janet Wolfenbarger was the first female four-star general in the U.S. Air Force.
Shannon Eastin was the first woman to officiate a National Football League game in a pre-season matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the San Diego Chargers.
New Hampshire elects the first all-woman congressional delegation in U.S. history, with U.S. senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and U.S. representatives Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster.
Danica Patrick was the first woman to win a pole in the 2013 Daytona 500.
Danica Patrick was the first woman to lead the Daytona 500.
Rosie Napravnik rode the filly Unlimited Budget to a 6th place finish in the 2013 Belmont, becoming the first woman to ride all three Triple Crown races in the same year.
Davie Jane Gilmour was the first woman to lead the Board of Directors for Little League.
Ashley Freiberg was the first woman to claim an overall GT3 Cup Challenge victory in North America, winning the Porsche IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge.
UFC 157, which took place in February, featured not only the first women’s fight in UFC history but also the first UFC event to be headlined by two female fighters (Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche).
Rabbi Deborah Waxman was elected as the President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. As the President, she is believed to have been the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first female rabbi and first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; RRC is both a congregational union and a seminary.
Julia Morgan was the first woman to receive the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal, which she received posthumously.
On March 1st, 2013, Privateers owner and president Nicole Kirnan served as the team’s coach for the first time, making her the first woman to coach a professional hockey team in the United States.
Erika Schmidt was the first female director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis.
Mia Hamm was the first woman to be inducted into the World Football Hall of Fame in Pachuca, Mexico.
General Motors named Mary Barra as its first female CEO and the first female CEO of a major automaker.
Deborah Rutter was named as the first female president of the Kennedy Center.
The American Council of the Blind (ACB) voted unanimously to elect Kim Charlson as its president, making her the first female president of a major national blindness consumer advocacy organization in the United States.
Lauren Silberman was the first woman to try out at an NFL Regional Scouting Combine, and thus the first woman to try out for the NFL (she tried out as a kicker), but she did not succeed.
Janet Yellen was confirmed by the Senate as the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve.
The first women competed in ski jumping at the Olympics, including three American women – Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome and Sarah Hendrickson.
Lauryn Williams was the first American woman to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympic games.
Jennifer Welter was the first woman non-kicker or placekick-holder to play in a men’s pro football game; she played running back for the Texas Revolution.
Michelle J. Howard began her assignment as the U.S. Navy’s first female and first female African-American four-star admiral on July 1, 2014.
Michele A. Roberts was elected as the new Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association, thus making her the first woman to be elected to the highest position of a major sport’s players association within the United States.
During the two-week 2014 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Natalie Nakase was an assistant coach for the Clippers, becoming the first woman to sit on the bench as an NBA assistant.
Becky Hammon became the first full-time female coach in the NBA – and the first full-time female coach in any of the four major professional sports in America – as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs.
Anne B. France won the inaugural Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
Katie Higgins was the first female pilot to join the Blue Angels, the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron.
Dr. Connie McCaa became the first American woman and the first Mississippi doctor inducted into the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Hall of Fame.
Suzy Whaley became the first female officer in the PGA, as PGA secretary.
Susan Morrison was named as the first female executive pastry chef at the White House.
Megan Smith was named as the first female Chief Technology Officer of the United States.
Megan Brennan was named as the first female United States Postmaster General.
Jennifer Welter became the first American woman hired to coach in men’s pro football when the Texas Revolution of the Champions Indoor Football league announced that Welter was hired to coach linebackers and special teams.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Michelle K. Lee as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Lee is the first woman and the first person of color to lead the USPTO.
Carla Hayden became first woman nominated for Librarian of Congress. She would be the first African-American to hold the position.
Hillary Clinton was formally nominated at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 26, 2016, becoming the first woman to be nominated for president by a major U.S. political party.
“I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
― Malala Yousafzai