Knowledge Center

Firsts in Business

  • Mary Kies: First woman to receive a patent; for a technique in weaving straw & silk together (1809)1
  • Sarah E. Goode: First African-American woman to receive a patent; for a folding cabinet-bed (1885)2
  • Kate Gleason: First woman president of a national bank (1917)3
  • Lettie Pate Whitehead: First American woman to serve as director of a major corporation (The Coca-Cola Company; 1934)4
  • Linda Darnell: First woman to sell securities on the New York Stock Curb Exchange (1941)5
  • Muriel Siebert: First woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (1967)6
  • Katharine Graham: First woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company (The Washington Post Co; 1972)7
  • Juanita Kreps: First woman director of the New York Stock Exchange; first woman appointed to Secretary of Commerce (1972)8
  • Catherine B. Cleary: First woman director on General Motors board of directors, which was the nation’s largest industrial corporation (equivalent to number one on today’s Fortune 500 list; 1972)9
  • Marsha Cohen: First woman CFO at a “big four” accounting firm (PricewaterhouseCoopers; 1997)10
  • Andrea Jung: First Asian-American woman and first woman of color to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company (1999)11

Firsts in Their Professions

  • Anne Bradstreet: First woman writer to be published (1678)12
  • Ann Franklin: First U.S. woman newspaper editor (1762)13
  • Phillis Wheatley: First African-American published poet (1773)14
  • Harriet Wilson: First African-American novelist (Our Nig; 1859)15
  • Arabella Mansfield Babb: First woman admitted to the bar (1869)16
  • Ellen Swallow Richards: First woman professional chemist (1873)17
  • Mary Baker Eddy: First woman to found a major religion (The Church of Christ, Scientist;1879)18
  • Louise Bethune: First American woman architect (1881)19
  • Alice Guy Blache: First American woman film director (1896)20
  • H.H.A. Beach: First woman to create a performed symphony (Gaelic Symphony, 1897)21
  • Sally Jean Priesand: First woman ordained as a rabbi in U.S. (1897)22
  • Mary Davenport-Engberg: First woman to conduct a symphony orchestra (Bellingham, Washington; 1914)23
  • Edith Wharton: First woman to win the Pulitzer Prize (for her fiction novel The Age of Innocence; 1921)24
  • Anna May Wong: First Asian-American movie star and host of own network TV series (Bits of Life, 1921; The Gallery of Madame Liu Tsong; 1951)25
  • Amelia Earhart: First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (1932)26
  • Katherine Sui Fun Cheng: First Asian-American woman aviator (licensed in 1932)27
  • Edith Houghton: First woman hired as a major-league baseball scout (1946)28
  • Gwendolyn Brooks: First African-American Pulitzer Prize winner (poetry;1950)29
  • Rita Moreno: First Hispanic American to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (West Side Story; 1961)30
  • Althea Gibson: First African-American tennis player to win a singles title at Wimbledon (1967)31
  • Diane Crump: First woman jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby (1970)32
  • Connie Chung: First Asian-American woman network news reporter and nightly news anchor for a major network (1974; CBS, 1993)33
  • Sarah Caldwell: First woman to conduct at the NY Metropolitan Opera House (1976)34
  • Sally Ride: First American woman to orbit the earth (1983)35
  • Toni Morrison: First African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1993)36
  • Lt. Col. Eileen Collins: First woman to pilot a spacecraft and the first woman astronaut to command a space shuttle mission (1995;1999)37
  • Dr. Peggy Whitson: First woman to command the International Space Station (2007)38
  • Nancy Ruth Mace: First woman cadet to graduate the Citadel (1999)39
  • Effa Manley: First woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame (2006)40
  • First all African-American woman flight crew: Occurred when the scheduled first officer called in sick for a flight from Atlanta to Nashville (Atlantic Southeast Airlines: 2009)41
  • Kathryn Bigelow: First woman to win an Oscar for Best Director (The Hurt Locker; 2010)42
  • Hattie McDaniel: First African-American Oscar Winner (best supporting actress, Gone With The Wind; 1940)43
  • Dorothy Dandridge: First African-American Best Actress Nominee (Carmen Jones; 1954)44
  • Ella Fitzgerald: First African-American woman Grammy Award Winner (1958)45
  • Vanessa Williams: First African-American Miss America (New York; 1984)46
  • Oprah Winfrey: First African-American woman TV host (“The Oprah Winfrey Show;” 1986)47


Firsts in Government

  • Mary Katherine Goddard: First woman postmaster (1775)48
  • Victoria Chaflin Woodhull: First woman to be a presidential candidate (1872)49
  • Belva Ann Lockwood: First woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (1880)50
  • Susanna Madora Salter: First U.S. woman mayor (Argonia, Kansas; 1887)51
  • Jeannette Rankin: First woman in Congress (1917)52
  • Florence E. Allen: First elected U.S. woman judge (1920)53
  • Nellie Tayloe Ross: First woman governor (Wyoming; 1925); first woman head of the U.S. Mint (1933)54
  • Ruth Bryan Owen: First woman ambassador/diplomat to a foreign country for the United States (Denmark and Iceland; 1933)55
  • Hattie Wyatt Caraway: First woman elected to U.S. Senate (Arkansas; 1932)56
  • Francis Perkins: First woman member of a Presidential Cabinet (Secretary of Labor, appointed by FDR; 1933)57
  • Georgia Nesse Clark: First woman treasurer of the United States (1949)58
  • Oveta Culp Hobby: First woman to serve as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare; first director of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.; first woman to receive the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Medal (1960)59
  • Margaret Chase Smith: First woman nominated for President by a major political party (Republican National Convention, San Francisco; 1964)60
  • Patsy Takemoto Mink: First Asian-American woman elected to Congress (Hawaii; 1965)61
  • Patricia Harris: First African-American woman ambassador (Luxembourg;1965)62
  • Shirley Chisholm: First African-American woman in Congress; first African-American woman U.S. Representative, and first African-American woman to run for President of the U.S. (New York; 1968, 1972)63
  • Elizabeth Hoisington: First woman to become brigadier general of the U.S. Army (1970)64
  • Sandra Day O’Connor: First woman justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1981)65
  • Geraldine Ferraro: First woman to run for Vice-President on a major ticket party (1984)66
  • Penny Harrington: First woman police chief of a major U.S. city (Portland, Oregon; 1985)67
  • Wilma Mankiller: First woman chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (1985)68
  • Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: First Hispanic woman elected to Congress (1989)69
  • Julia Chang Bloch: Appointed first Asian-American U.S. Ambassador (Kingdom of Nepal; 1989)70
  • Dr. Antonia Novello: First woman and first Hispanic U.S. Surgeon General (1990)71
  • Sharon Pratt Dixon: First African-American woman to serve as mayor of a major city (Washington D.C.; 1991)72
  • Carol Mosely Braun: First African-American woman Senator (Illinois;1992)73
  • Sheila Widnall: First woman Secretary of a branch of the U.S. Military (Air Force; 1993)74
  • Janet Reno: First woman U.S. Attorney General (1993)75
  • Madeleine K. Albright: First woman Secretary of State and highest ranking woman in the U.S. government (1997)76
  • Elaine Chao: First Asian-American woman Cabinet member (Secretary of Labor; 2001)77
  • Condoleeza Rice: First African-American woman Secretary of State (2005)78
  • Cristeta Comerford: First woman White House executive chef (2005)79
  • Nancy Pelosi: First woman to become Speaker of the House (2007)80
  • Hillary Clinton: First woman to win a Presidential Primary Contest (NH Democratic Primary; 2008)81
  • Sonia Sotomayor: First Hispanic woman to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice (2009)82


Firsts for Women in Education

  • Catherine Brewer: First woman to receive a bachelor’s degree (Wesleyan College; 1840)83
  • Mary Jane Patterson: First African-American to receive a B.A. Degree (Oberlin College; 1862)84
  • Elizabeth Blackwell: First woman to receive a medical degree (Geneva Medical College; 1849)85
  • Rebecca Lee Crumpler: First African-American woman to receive a medical degree (New England Woman Medical College; 1864)86
  • Lucy Hobbs: First woman to graduate from dental school (Ohio College of Dentistry; 1866)87
  • Ada Kepley: First woman to graduate from an accredited law school (Union College; 1870)88
  • Frances Elizabeth Willard: First woman to become a college president (Evanston College; 1871)89
  • New England Hospital for Women and Children: First training school for nurses; first class graduates (1873)90
  • Ellen Swallow Richards: First woman to be admitted to Massachusetts Institute of Technology; earns her B.S. Degree, becomes first woman professional chemist in the U.S. (1873)91
  • Helen Magill White: First woman to receive a Ph.D. in the U.S. (Boston University; 1877)92
  • Ruth Simmons: First woman of color and first African-American to become college president of an Ivy League University (Brown University; 2001)93
  • Drew Gilpin Faust: First woman President of Harvard University (2007)94
  • Mississippi University for Women: First publicly funded college for women in the U.S. (1884)95
  • 1978: The first year that at least 50% of all women over the age of 16 participated in the labor force.96
  • 1984: First year that more women than men receive bachelor’s and master’s degrees.97