Leading Ladies: A List of Firsts


On August 18 in 1920, our sassy, outspoken foremothers achieved a landmark victory after years of protests and activism: A woman’s right to vote was ratified as the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Fast forward a titch under 97 years to last week, when the first female presidential candidate was elected to a major political party. Let’s relive that glorious (and let’s be honest, gloriously cheesy) animation of Hillary Clinton shattering that glass ceiling, shall we?

Anyway. All this ceiling shattering got us thinking about the other brave, trailblazing women that were the first to achieve their respective milestones. If we’re being totally honest, some of these are kind of depressing in how long it took society to bestow these accolades (really, Supreme Court? Only four women have held the position and the first one wasn’t until 1981?!), and to be certain, there are plenty of barriers to bust down still. But there’s no denying these women are inspiring AF; take a peek and maybe call your mother or aunt or grandma to say hi; they did some work for womankind back in the day:

1647: Margaret Brent, the first woman to own property in Maryland, stands before the state assembly and demands the right to vote; Brent is one of the first known suffragettes.

1849: Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.

1921: Edith Wharton becomes the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Age of Innocence.

1928: Amelia Earhart is the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

1931: Jane Addams, founder of the Woman’s Peace Party, is the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

1943: Grace Hopper becomes the first woman to earn her PhD in mathematics from Yale. She would go on to become the first recipient of the National Medal of Technology and coined the word “debugging” as it relates to fixing computer glitches. She was also a navy admiral and before her retirement at age 79, she was the oldest serving officer at the time.

1940: Hattie McDaniel is the first African American to win an Academy Award for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind.

1967: Muriel Siebert is the first woman to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

1968: Shirley Chrisholm becomes the first African American woman elected to Congress.

1968: Penny Ann Early is the first licensed female jockey. Male jockeys boycotted her presence and refused to race; in response, professional basketball team the Kentucky Colonels signed Early to a contract, making the five-foot-three-inches, 110-pound Early the first female to play professional basketball as well.

1970: Patricia Palinkas is the first woman to play professional American football.

1981: Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

1983: Sally Ride becomes the first female astronaut.

1987: Aretha Franklin is the first African American woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2009: Sonia Sotomayor is appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and becomes the first hispanic woman to hold the position.

2010: Kathryn Bigelow is the first female film director to win an Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker.

2013: Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche face off in the first UFC fight headlined by women.

2013: At age 64, Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage.

2014: Mo’Ne Davis is the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series, surrounded by a bunch of boys.

2015: Misty Copeland is the first African American woman to be appointed as a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.

2016: Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes the first woman to be nominated as a presidential candidate by a major political party.