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Feminist Fact Friday – 5 Ways To Get Girls Inspired About STEM

Everywhere you look these days (and especially if you work in education) people are talking about STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM careers, STEM job creation, STEM college majors… And with good reason. Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math tend to be in high demand and provide lucrative compensation. They have also tended to be male-dominated. Many people argue that the gender-wage gap is at least partly a result of the under-representation of women in these fields.

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Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American woman in space.
Photo credit: NASA

If we going to close this gap, part of the solution will be attracting more girls and women to these careers. But how? One major tactic is a take on the adage “If you can see it, you can be it.” Dr. Mae Jemison, former NASA astronaut and the first African American woman in space once wrote that she was inspired to apply to NASA by seeing actress Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. These days, girls are lucky that they don’t have to limit their sources of inspiration to fictional characters. There are already many smart and successful women working in these fields who can inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Here are 5 cool ways women are working to get girls and young women excited about STEM:

Women@NASA – Formed in conjunction with the creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls, this program’s website contains essays, bios, and videos of women working in various divisions at NASA. They tell stories of how they were inspired to work in their fields (most of which are science-related), what obstacles they faced, and thank the people who mentored their careers. They are single mothers, former political refugees, women who left other careers after discovering their passion for science later in life, PhDs who moonlight as musicians, athletes, and more.  Not all of these women attended elite universities. NASA’s outreach now includes recruiting male and female employees who started their education at community college STEM programs (as one of the scientists on the Mars Rover team did). Women@NASA is a great tool for skewering the perception of what a “typical scientist” looks like and it’s worth sharing with any child who shows an interest in science or the space program.

Aspire 2 Inspire and NASA GIrls/NASA Boys – These two related programs from NASA aim to extend the reach of the Women@NASA program into communities and homes. First, Aspire 2 Inspire (A2I) created a series of short films about the most innovative work being done in STEM fields at NASA and elsewhere to give students an idea of what these careers are like. Secondly, A2I provides age-appropriate materials to schools, museums, and other local groups so they can recruit science-loving kids to work on projects together, building their skills. NASA Girls/NASA Boys pairs middle school students of both genders with NASA employees for a five-week mentoring program conducted via Google Chat or Skype. (Admit it, grownups, you wish you could apply. Sorry, grades 5 through 8 only.)

Sally Ride Science – Founded by the late Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Sally Ride Science offers a variety of educational programs designed to engage middle school girls. They run one-day science festivals in different cities each year, annual summer science camps for girls, and provide classroom materials on science-related topics such as climate change and space exploration.

Danica McKellar’s Math Books for Girls – Readers over a certain age may remember Danica McKellar for her role as Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years.” While navigating that tricky transition from child actor to adulthood, McKellar graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with a degree in mathematics. She then set about finding a way to get more girls interested in this field to counter what she calls “damaging social messages that tell young girls science and math aren’t for them.” The result was a best-selling series of books targeted at middle school and high school girls: Math Doesn’t Suck, Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss, Hot X: Algebra Exposed, and Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.

I have to admit that from reading the titles alone, I was worried that McKellar was trading in the same gender stereotypes she was aiming to dispel. I really didn’t think much of these books…until I showed them to my middle school-aged daughter and her friend one day in a bookstore. I had a hard time getting them to look at anything else once they started reading those books. They are both fairly good at math already but they absolutely loved the format and the language. Math books that girls can’t put down? OK, you have my attention. Both said they liked that the books didn’t talk about math as something they were supposed to hate. That comment in particular made me rethink both my preconception of the books and the way that I personally talk about math around my daughter.

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STEM-related badges for Girl Scouts.
Photo credit: Girl Scouts of the USA

Girl Scouts – The Girl Scouts aren’t about to be left out of any conversation about expanding opportunities for girls. Brownies and juniors now can work towards such STEM-related badges as Naturalist, Digital Art, Science and Technology, and Innovation. In addition, they’ve partnered with the National Science Foundation and several U.S. technology companies to provide mentoring and financial sponsorship of Girl Scout teams in local and national science, engineering, and robotics competitions.

Know about a cool way to get all kids interested in STEM? Tell us in the comments here or on our Facebook page.

-Admin Pattie


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Tired of Talking About Abortion? Me Too.

babblingBy Admin Jen

I’m getting tired of talking about abortion.

Not that I’m changing my mind on where I stand about it; if you follow this page, you know that I don’t like it, but I think criminalizing it is a really, really terrible idea. But I’m getting tired of the fact that we, as a culture, are talking about it so much, and more importantly, tired of the way we talk about it.

Gun owners will tell you that it’s pointless to take away guns, because people bent on killing will just kill with something else, that taking away guns will not address the underlying causes of violence. They’re not completely wrong about that. (Americans are violent and a little crazy.) But in a similar way, outlawing abortion really does nothing to address the underlying issues, it just makes the procedure more dangerous and the women seeking it more desperate. Just last year, Ohio State Representative Jim Buchy, who was trying to effectively ban abortion in his state, was asked by a reporter why he thought a woman would be looking for an abortion, and he admitted that he didn’t know, and in fact, hadn’t even thought about it.

Abortion doesn’t happen for no reason. It doesn’t happen for fun. There aren’t “recreational abortions,” followed by mani-pedi’s. They don’t happen because girls don’t understand that they haven’t got a carrot or a Tupperware set growing in there. And throwing up a billion little roadblocks if they decide they need one does nothing to change the culture that produces so many unwelcome pregnancies to begin with.

I hate that the culture we live in leaves so many women feeling, when they find themselves in that place, that abortion is the best of a set of bad options. The dialogue about our reproductive decisions, which ought to be the most personal thing in our lives, is public, and everyone thinks they get a vote. Fourteen states have “conscience clauses” for pharmacists to refuse to fill pill prescriptions without penalty. How do you say you’re pro-life when you’re probably causing more abortions than you’re preventing?

I am beyond exhausted with the idea that, in their zeal to tell us what’s best, those supposedly pro-life politicians are tripping over themselves to pull the plug on Planned Parenthood. Saving lives, except the ones saved by pap smears, STD testing, mammograms and prenatal care.

The baby that was cured of HIV in Mississippi is being heralded as a miracle. But the baby never should have had HIV in the first place. The mother, living in poverty, had never received any prenatal care; if she had, she’d have known that she had HIV and would have been given meds to keep her from passing it to the baby. How does this happen in the richest country in the world? Did the legislators scrambling to defund women’s health clinics factor in the loss of lives like that woman’s as acceptable in their war on abortion? That we call this approach “pro-life” is puzzling.

NARAL MAP

If you are a young, unmarried girl living in poverty and violence, and you find yourself pregnant, you are judged from that moment on: for opening your legs, for deciding not to bring a child into your difficult world, or for having it and then seeking public assistance to take care of it. Somehow you have no skills, no education, a job that pays not nearly enough, yet there is never a conversation about how if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, it’d be twice what it is now, and you could begin to provide for that child. Trying to do right, with a pile of wrong choices. It is so frustratingly limiting to get caught up in arguing the legislative delineations, the moral exceptions, the ethics and philosophy of whose existence supersedes whose; we sit here holding up our virtual placards, hollering into the digital ether about rights, when there is an entire real world that feels to so many people like it’s burning down.

So we split. Into this camp and that camp. Those obsessed with criminalizing abortion have arrested as many as 300 American women for “suspicious” miscarriages under fetal harm laws that are on the books in 40 states. They mandate ultrasounds that women don’t want or need. And feeling besieged, we raise ourselves up on the ramparts of traditional feminism, even as it ignores our sisters of color, and those struggling in poverty and food insecurity. We get hung up in the rhetoric of what we are or are not entitled to, as if justice begins and ends in our uteruses, the way the sanctity of life seems to do for many of those we’re struggling against. We’re so busy “Leaning In”, we’re too close to see the whole picture.

So, I’m tired. Tired of raging about the width of the hallways when the building is collapsing. Do you want to end abortion in America? I do. So let’s make family planning widely available and low-cost or free, the way Obamacare seeks to do. Let’s stop kidding ourselves that if we just keep sex education out of our schools, that teenagers will stop having sex. Let’s get real about addressing poverty, violence, hunger and inequality so that we have a less forbidding world bring a child into. If we want to save lives, then let’s save lives. Let’s make workplaces more family friendly and college campuses more accommodating to the pregnant and the parenting, so that a woman doesn’t feel she’s throwing a future away to carry a child. Let’s do this, and watch things change. At the end of the day, it’s still a decision that a woman needs to make herself, without forced vaginal probes, without harassment and fairy stories propagated by crisis pregnancy centers; but if you’re truly pro-life, it has to extend to the lives of all people, not just the unborn.

I know what this sounds like. “Just fix the world, make it perfect, and then there will be no more abortions.” I’m aware of the crushing enormity. That’s why we tend to keep our focus narrow, on the how and why of keeping abortion safe and legal. We can only do so much. But it’s important to acknowledge the broader context, to step back and view the problem through this lens once in a while, and to recognize that the issue of reproductive justice doesn’t exist alone on some island, that it’s deeply intertwined with everything else that matters. And that’s something that people on both sides of the issue need to recognize, so we can all adjust our thinking accordingly. And then, start doing something real about it.

Because I’m tired of talking.


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Feminist Fact Friday – First in Firefighting

There are few professions that have a more masculine public perception than professional firefighting. It is true that firefighters in the United States are still predominately male, however the history of female firefighters goes back further than you think.

Aspiring female firefighters in their gear at Camp Blaze, a non-profit  organization dedicated to training and helping women advance in fire service.  Photo credit: CampBlaze.com

Aspiring female firefighters in their gear at Camp Blaze, a non-profit organization dedicated to training and helping women advance in fire service.
Photo credit: CampBlaze.com

According to the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services, the first known American female firefighter worked for Oceanus Engine Company #11 in New York City in 1818. She was an enslaved African American woman named Molly Williams. She was not paid for her service and was known to the other firefighters as “Volunteer #11.”

The first woman known to be paid for fighting fires was Sandra Forcier, who was hired as a Public Safety Officer – a combination firefighter and police officer – by the City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1973. She rose to the rank of Battalion Chief and retired from the department in 2004.

The first American woman to be hired exclusively as a firefighter was Judith Livers, who was hired by the Arlington County, VA Fire Department in 1974. She also rose to the rank of Battalion Chief before she retired in 1999.

There are currently 6,200 full-time career female firefighters in the United States and an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 female volunteer firefighters. However, women still account for less than 5% of all American fighters.  To help grow those numbers, organizations like iWomen and Camp Blaze have developed active training camps for young women who are interested in fire service. Such camps provide both physical training and science education to help women meet the rigorous requirements of fire department testing.

For more information, please visit websites of the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services and the International Association of Fire Fighters.


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Why Expanding VAWA Mattered: A Survivor’s Story

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Author Carissa Daniels after speaking at a Press Conference about domestic violence with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on April 2, 2012.

My name is Carissa Daniels. I am a mother, a student, an advocate and an activist. I am Cherokee. I am also a survivor of domestic violence. Fifteen years ago this May, I was forced to take my daughter and leave my home because of domestic violence. We spent four months homeless, living underground in the system of domestic violence shelters where victims move every 28 days to stay safe from someone who has threatened and/or tried to kill them. The same someone who said they loved them.

Nowhere in my dreams of happily ever after did it ever mention mental and emotional abuse, put-downs, physical and sexual violence. But I lived through all of those and more.

People ask why victims stay. A much better question would be “Why does someone who says he loves someone hurt that person?” As to why victims stay, I can tell you that in my case, I didn’t know that what I was living with was abuse. It’s hard to recognize because it occurs in so many different forms, and happens so gradually, you don’t even know what is going on until it is nearly too late.

I was disabled in a car crash years before meeting my ex, so I had very little income. Some abusers keep victims from working at all, or they take all the money, so she has no way to get out.

This is why renewing the Violence Against Women Act was so vital and why it was so important to not compromise on which victims receive services and protection and which don’t. VAWA helps to fund programs to support domestic violence victims who want to get safe. It enables them to have a place to go, temporarily, without cost. It gives them a roof over their head, and food to eat while they work on getting things in order and contemplating their next steps.

VAWA provides a victim with a legal advocate to help with things like an order of protection, divorce and child custody and support issues. Sometimes, when the situation is most serious, and the victim qualifies, the legal advocate can even help the victim find an attorney to help them. In my case, I nearly lost custody of my daughter because he had a significant income, while I did not. He could, and, did spend a lot of money on attorneys in an effort to take my daughter from me. If it hadn’t been for the legal advocacy program, I would have been alone while enduring four years of terrifying court battles, all in an effort to take my daughter from me.

Until now, this would not have been the case, if I lived on a reservation. If I had been assaulted on Native American lands, much of the help that is available to other victims of abuse would have been far from me. Getting an order of protection on a reservation would have been much more difficult if the House version of VAWA had become law. The Republican plan would have made it harder for the courts to issue civil orders of protection on the reservation because all applications for an order of protection would have required tribal courts to get approval from a US Attorney General. This is the current procedure for prosecution. It would not have changed under the new bill. This is part of the problem. If this hasn’t worked for prosecution up till now, why did they think it would work adding civil protection orders?

I felt a cold chill when I read this portion of the House GOP proposal because it meant even more people would die. Many abusers knew that their crimes could be committed with impunity on the reservation if you were not a tribal member. Eighty-eight percent of these crimes on the reservation are committed by non-Natives. Seventy-seven percent of people on the reservation are non-Native people, exempt from prosecution under Native law. Native women are currently two and a half times more likely to be assaulted, and more than twice as likely to be stalked, than non-Natives. Indian nations, which have sovereignty over their territories and people, have been the only governments in America without jurisdiction and local control they need to address the epidemic of domestic violence. We have given power to state and local governments to deal with domestic violence but until now we had not done so for Native American territories. The House GOP version of VAWA removed some more of the few tools the tribal courts have. While federal agencies have exclusive jurisdiction over these crimes, the U.S. courts are located hundreds of miles from the reservation, so they often decline prosecution. In any other foreign nation, they have the right to prosecute someone who commits a crime on their land. Not so with non-natives on Reservation land.

I cannot help but ask, when we see how effective VAWA has been in other areas, the number of lives saved (incidents of domestic violence are down 63% since 1994). And in the first 6 years of its existence, VAWA saved $14.8 billion dollars in net averted social costs. Why would we not support a bill that protects ALL victims? The new portions of the Violence Against Women Act have been created after months (and in some cases, years) of research and consultation with constitutional lawyers and the tribal authorities. Constitutional experts and the native organizations have come together, working to find a solution that maximizes the help for victims while controlling the costs. They agree that it can be done without any negative impact on the rights of Non-natives. When a discussion is made about if a non-native can get a fair trial in a tribal court, the answer should be a resounding yes. The jury of their peers… their neighbors, their community are called to hear the case. Instead of displaying ignorance and prejudice, squabbling over “if” we should do it, we need to ask, “How we can make it happen?” We already know it is costing many lives, and money to do nothing.

Then there’s the question of immigration issues: Because of controversy over this, Senate Democrats removed the section in their bill that would have granted more visas to undocumented victims of domestic violence. They did so to try to compromise with the House. Rather than being willing to compromise, however, Republicans in the House removed sections these sections as well as those would have protected LGBT victims from discrimination in applying for services.

Lastly, the House GOP proposal left out of their bill updates that would protect college students. The Leadership conference on Civil and Human Rights said it well when they said that “Even in today’s polarized climate, we should be able to agree that when we send our daughters and sons to college, they should be protected from stalking, violence, date rape and sexual assault.”

My point: These omissions would have cost many lives! The more inclusive VAWA that passed last week has significant cost savings, without yet another huge loss of services to those who need it most. In fact, it will reach more people and have a significant impact on future generations, while saving money… The choice was clear. Congress needed to do what was best for victims, and stop grandstanding. Thankfully they did so in the end. If we are to make a significant difference in the fight to end domestic violence, we need to have the tools to do so. That is why, yesterday when I saw the House passed S. 47, I cried. For those who will live and one day make our world a better place. If all of us do what we can, we can make a difference in the lives of victims!


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In Stunning Last-Minute Move, Congress Does the Right Thing For Once

by Admin Jen

Well, the House finally found a way to vote on, and pass, the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act.  It was the most convoluted, face-saving way possible, but they did it.  And as it turns out, most of our representatives don’t like domestic violence.  Pop the champagne, people.  The House has managed to sit down together and get enough of its members to agree that wife-beating is bad that they could pass something about it.  I realize this is a low bar, but we have to start somewhere and if we are really going to entertain fantasies of bi-partisanship or progress in this relentlessly, depressingly divided country, it’s a satisfying enough place to begin.

I’m not kidding.  The significance of VAWA’s passage can’t be underplayed.  It gives a glimmer of hope that we might see a more reasonable Republican party in the future.  As I’ve said elsewhere on this page, I would love to be having a spirited conversation with my conservative brethren and sistren about the role and size of government, the best way to spur economic growth, foreign policy, just about anything else than whether domestic violence should be treated as the serious crime that it is.  This really is a big damn deal.

Why do I say this?  Well, if you recall, the bill that originally sailed past the Senate last year contained expanded protections for underserved, hard-to-reach groups; namely Native Americans on reservations, illegal immigrants, and LGBT victims.  And the bills that were coming out of the House committees were conspicuously missing these expansions.  Multiple Republican House members said the expansions in the Senate bill made it “impossible” for them to vote for it, because of gay immigrant cooties or something.  America had the distinct impression that the House Republicans felt that immigrants, gays, and tribal women weren’t really women.  That they didn’t deserve the same protections as “regular” women.  By resoundingly passing the Senate’s bill, it gives the lie to all of that.  It codifies a simple recognition of the humanity of these groups.  A significant number of Republicans, in voting for this act, voted in favor of the notion that these groups are people too, and that their shared humanity matters.  It’s an encouraging thought.

Now, virtually all of the “no” votes were still Republicans… But there were lots who voted “yes”, including my own Pennsylvania congressman, Mike Fitzpatrick, a mushy moderate in a purple district who is nonetheless a Tea Party darling.  The partisan in me sometimes sits back and laughs when the rhetoric from that side of the aisle grows too sick, too sad, too hateful and misogynistic, because it clearly hurts them with women voters and, you know… decent people.  The evil voice in my head (who sounds suspiciously like Kathy Bates in “Primary Colors”) says,  “Go ahead, guys, keep giving yourself that rope, you saw how well it worked out for Richard Mourdock.”  But the truth is, I don’t want to live in that world.  I want to live in a world where the opposition is sane.  Where we really do share the same desire for the same ends, and the wrangling comes in trying to achieve them.  Where we can agree that all people are worthy of love and respect, deserving to live in a world that is as sane and safe as our loony species can manage.  (Again, a low bar, perhaps, but we can still try to raise it.)  I count a few conservatives among my friends, and they’re good people.  I promise you, they don’t sit around on their rooftops wearing hoods and taking potshots at their gay neighbors with a .22.  They aren’t Minute Men.  They really don’t deserve to be stuck with the reputation made by the louder, angrier, more reactionary cousins in their extended partisan family.  This vote brings the country one step closer to internalizing that truth.

Now, it’s not clear whether this seemingly sudden turnaround was politically motivated, motivated out of simple human decency, or some combination of the two.  It’s possible that the support for the Senate version had been there all along and the gamesmanship revolved around something else entirely.  Be assured, we’ll be researching the matter more, if only to satisfy our own curiosity as to what changed and when, and we’ll share everything we learn.  But there are two reasons to feel a glimmer of hope for the future.  One, because, after months of our own campaigning and encouraging you all to call and write your representatives, we finally have a Violence Against Women Act that reaches that many more women.

And two, because it might, just maybe, represent a tiny step in the direction of sanity for us as a people.

A girl can dream for just a minute.  Now give me the damn champers.


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Feminist Fact Friday – Famous Firsts By American Women

by Admin Pattie

In observation of the first day of Women’s History Month, today’s Feminist Fact Friday is highlighting a selection of American women whose firsts made history in their respective fields. Their firsts helped redefine what was possible for women to achieve. Many of these woman had been told that the fields they worked in were the sole domains of men and that they would be better served doing something else. To their credit, and to our benefit, they didn’t listen.

We’ve provided links to resources where you can find out more about each woman and her achievements. Some of these women may have been featured in previous editions of Feminist Fact Friday, however, if there’s a woman we haven’t featured and you’d like to see a longer post about her in the future, please tell us in the comments here or on our Facebook page.

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Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R-MT)

GOVERNMENT
First Woman elected to U.S. Congress
Jeannette Pickering Rankin (R-MT)
Served in the U.S. House of Representatives: March 4, 1917 – March 3, 1919 and January 3, 1941 – January 3, 1943

First Woman to run for President of the United States
Victoria Claflin Woodhull
Nominated as a candidate for President by the Equal Rights Party in 1872.

First Woman elected to the U.S. Senate
Hattie Wyatt Caraway (D-AR)
Served in the U.S. Senate: December 9, 1931 – January 3, 1945

First Woman to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi (D-CA)
Served as Speaker of the House: January 4, 2007 – January 3, 2011

First Woman to serve in the Cabinet of a U.S. President
Frances Perkins
Served as Secretary of Labor to President Franklin Roosevelt: March 4, 1933 – June 30, 1945

First Woman to serve as Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court
Sandra Day O’Connor
Served as Justice: September 21, 1981 – January 31, 2006

First Woman to win a Presidential Primary
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Won the New Hampshire Democratic Primary in 2008.

Sally-Ride-1983-500

Dr. Sally Ride
Photo credit: NASA

SCIENCE AND MEDICINE
First Woman to receive a Medical Degree in the U.S.

Elizabeth Blackwell
Received her degree from Geneva Medical College on January 23, 1849.

First American Woman to receive a Nobel Prize in a scientific field
Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori
Received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947

First American Woman in space
Sally Ride
Entered low Earth orbit as a crew member on the Space Shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983.

First Woman to be named U.S. Surgeon General
Antonia Novello
Served as Surgeon General: March 9, 1990 – June 30, 1993

ARTS
First Woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Edith Wharton
Won the Pulitzer in 1921 for The Age of Innocence.

First American Woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature
Pearl S. Buck
Won the Nobel Prize in 1938 for her body of work.

First Woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
Julia Ward Howe
Elected to the Academy in 1908.

First Woman to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate
Mona Van Duyn
Served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1992 to 1993.

SPORTS

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Janet Guthrie
Photo credit: Janetguthrie.com

First American woman to win an Olympic gold medal
Margaret Abbott
Won the gold medal in golf at the 1900 Olympics in Paris.

First Woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby
Diane Crump
Rode in the 1970 Kentucky Derby.

First Woman to race in the Indianapolis 500.
Janet Guthrie
First qualified for and competed in the 1977 Indianapolis 500.

First Woman to win the Women’s Olympic Marathon
Joan Benoit
Won the first women’s marathon event at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

BUSINESS

Madame C.J. Walker

Madame C.J. Walker aka Sarah Breedlove

First woman granted a patent in the U.S.
Mary Keis
Granted a patent in 1809 for a technique of weaving straw with silk and thread.

First American woman to become a self-made millionaire
Madame C.J. Walker (aka Sarah Breedlove)
Founded a company that manufactured hair care products in 1908.

First woman to serve as a director of a major U.S. corporation
Leticia Pate Whitehead
Served on the Board of Directors of the Coca-Cola Company for 20 years, beginning in 1934.

First woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company
Katherine Graham
Served as CEO of the Washington Post Company from 1973 to 1991.

For more information about milestones in women’s history, check out this amazing list of resources and teaching tools assembled by the New York Times Learning Network.