Feminist Fact Friday – Famous Firsts By American Women

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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.


Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R-MT)

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.


Dr. Sally Ride
Photo credit: NASA

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

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.



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.


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.

Author: womenriseupnow

An awareness and mobilization site designed to fight back against recent attacks against womens' rights.

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