Highlights About Revolutionary Women: U.S. Government, Education, Business, and Sports
CNN Editorial Research
Here’s a look at the women in government, education, business and sports who broke the glass ceiling and became the first to take their respective positions in the United States.
1872 – Victoria Claflin Woodhull becomes the first female presidential candidate in the United States when she is nominated for the Equal Rights Party.
April 4, 1887 – Susanna Madora Salter is the first woman elected mayor of an American city, Argonia, Kansas.
1916 – Jeannette Rankin of Montana is the first woman elected to Congress. She served only one term, then was re-elected in 1940 for a single term. Meanwhile, she votes against participating in both WWI and WWII.
November 21, 1922 – Rebecca Felton is the first woman to serve in the United States Senate. She is nominated by the governor of Georgia who wanted to win female voters after her initial opposition to the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. She serves 24 hours in this temporary vacancy during the break of the session.
January 5, 1925 – Nellie Tayloe Ross is the first woman to serve as governor of a state, Wyoming. In May 1933, she also became the first woman to hold the post of director of the US Mint.
1928 – Genevieve R. Cline is the first woman to be appointed US federal judge. She is appointed to the United States Customs Court by President Calvin Coolidge.
1932 – Hattie Wyatt Caraway is the first woman elected to the United States Senate. She wins a special election after taking her late husband’s seat by appointment. She served Arkansas in the Senate for almost 14 years.
1933 – Frances Perkins is the first woman to be appointed U.S. Secretary of Labor, making her the first woman to sit in a presidential cabinet. She is largely responsible for shaping much of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s labor and social security legislation.
1948 – Margaret Chase Smith of Maine is the first woman to win elections to both houses of Congress. (She was elected to the House in 1940.) Its landmark legislation is the Armed Services Integration Act (which gives women in the military full status).
June 21, 1949 – Georgia Neese Clark is the first woman to be named treasurer of the United States. She is appointed by President Harry S. Truman.
1949 – Helen “Eugenie” Anderson is the first woman to serve as a United States Ambassador. Under President Truman, Anderson is Ambassador to Denmark. She later also became the first woman to sign a diplomatic treaty and the first woman to serve on the United Nations Security Council.
1960 – Oveta Culp Hobby becomes the first secretary of health, education and welfare. Later, she was also the first director of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and the first woman to receive the US Army Distinguished Service Medal.
1964 – Margaret Chase Smith is the first woman to be appointed President of the United States by a major political party. At the Republican National Convention, she loses the nomination to Barry Goldwater.
1977 – Juanita Kreps is the first woman appointed Secretary of Commerce. In 1972, she was the first woman to serve as a director of the New York Stock Exchange.
December 6, 1979 – Shirley Hufstedler is sworn in as First Secretary of Education.
September 25, 1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. She was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
1983 – Elizabeth Dole becomes the first woman to hold the post of Secretary of Transportation.
1984 – Geraldine Ferraro is the first woman nominated as vice president of the United States by a major party at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.
1990 – Dr. Antonia Novello is the first woman (and the first Hispanic person) to be named U.S. Surgeon General.
January 21, 1993 – Hazel R. O’Leary is confirmed as the first woman to serve as US Secretary of Energy. She is also the first African American to play this role.
March 11, 1993 – Janet Reno is confirmed as the first woman to serve as United States Attorney General.
Aug 5, 1993 – Sheila Widnall is confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of the Air Force, the first woman to serve as a secretary in a branch of the United States military.
January 23, 1997 – Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the first woman to serve as US Secretary of State. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton.
December 17, 2000-2005 – Condoleezza Rice is the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush.
January 2001 – Gale Norton becomes the first woman to hold the post of United States Secretary of the Interior and Ann Veneman is the first woman to hold the position of United States Secretary of Agriculture. Both were appointed by President George W. Bush.
2001 – Fran Mainella is the first woman to be appointed director of the US National Park Service.
2007 – Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) becomes the first woman to be Speaker of the House of Representatives.
2008 – Sarah Palin is the first woman to run for vice president as a Republican.
2008 – Ann Dunwoody is the first woman to receive the rank of Four-Star General in the United States Army.
2009 – Janet Napolitano becomes the first woman to hold the post of US Secretary of Homeland Security. Previously, Napolitano had been the first female president of the National Governors Association and the first woman to serve as Arizona attorney general.
February 2014 – Janet Yellen becomes the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
September 2014 – Megan Smith is the first woman to be appointed Chief Technology Officer in the United States.
February 2015 – Megan Brennan becomes the first woman to serve as the United States Postmaster General.
May 13, 2016 – Air Force General Lori Robinson is appointed head of US Northern Command, becoming the country’s first female combat commander.
July 26, 2016 – Hillary Clinton is the first American woman to lead a big party ticket. She won the Democratic nomination at the national convention in Philadelphia.
September 14, 2016 – Carla Hayden is sworn in as the first female Librarian of Congress.
May 17, 2018 – Gina Haspel is confirmed as the first female director of the CIA.
Dec. 7, 2018 – Beth Kimber becomes the first woman to lead the CIA’s directorate of operations.
June 29, 2019 – Major-General Laura Yeager becomes the first woman to lead an infantry division in the United States Army.
December 31, 2020 – Pelosi’s office announces the appointment of Rear Admiral Margaret Grun Kibben as House of Representatives chaplain – the first woman to hold the post in either chamber.
January 25, 2021 – Janet Yellen is confirmed as the first female Secretary of the Treasury.
October 19, 2021 – Dr. Rachel Levine is sworn in as the first female four-star admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Levine is also the first openly transgender four-star officer in the nation’s eight uniformed services.
READ MORE: Candidates for President and Vice-President: A selected list from the Center for American Women and Politics.
1648 – Margaret Brent of Maryland appears in court to seek the right to vote. She is considered the first woman to practice law.
July 16, 1840 – Catherine Brewer is the first in a group of 11 women to graduate from Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.
1849 – Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman to receive a medical degree. She holds a doctorate in medicine from Geneva Medical College in New York.
1866 – Lucy Hobbs is the first woman to earn a doctorate in dental surgery, graduating from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.
1869 – Arabella Mansfield is called to the Iowa State Bar, becoming the first woman admitted to the state bar.
1870 – Ada Kepley is a graduate of the Union College of Law in Chicago and is the first woman to earn a law degree.
1873 – Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduated in chemistry.
1877 – Helen Magill becomes the first woman to earn a doctorate when she graduates from Boston University.
1739 – Elizabeth Timothy is the first female newspaper editor of the South Carolina Gazette.
1867-1919 – Madame CJ Walker is the first woman to become a self-made millionaire. Her company develops and sells hair care products for black women.
1934 – Lettie Pate Whitehead is the first woman to serve as a director of a large corporation, The Coca-Cola Company.
1967 – Isabel Benham is the first female partner of a Wall Street securities firm, RW Pressprich & Co.
1972 – Juanita Kreps becomes the first woman to be a director of the New York Stock Exchange. In 1977, she was the first woman appointed Secretary of Commerce.
1972 – Katharine Graham is the first woman to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the Washington Post.
July 1999 – Carly Fiorina is the first woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 20 company, Hewlett-Packard.
October 1999 – Martha Stewart is the first woman to become a self-made billionaire. Its creative home brand includes books, magazine, home furnishings, and entertainment and gardening TV shows.
2011 – Beth Mooney is the first woman to hold the position of CEO of one of America’s 20 largest banks, KeyCorp.
2013 – Mary Barra is the first woman to hold the position of CEO of a major automaker, General Motors.
September 10, 2020 – Citigroup appoints Jane Fraser as CEO, first woman to head major U.S. bank.
1997 – Dee Kantner and Violet Palmer become the first women to be NBA referees.
April 8, 2015 – Sarah Thomas becomes the first woman to be a full-time NFL referee.
February 2, 2020 – Katie Sowers, offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers football team, becomes the first woman to coach the Super Bowl.
July 20, 2020 – Alyssa Nakken, the first female Major League Baseball coach in league history, becomes the first female to coach on the field in a Major League game. Nakken coached the first goal in an exhibition game between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.
November 13, 2020 – The Miami Marlins announce the hiring of Kim Ng as the team’s new general manager, making her the first female general manager in Major League Baseball history. She is believed to be the first woman hired as a general manager to lead a professional men’s sports team in a North American major league.
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