Breakthrough Women Fast Facts: U.S. Government, Education and Business
Here is a look at women in government, education and business who have broken through the glass ceiling and become the first in their respective positions in the United States.
READ MORE: All the countries that have had a woman leader.
1872 – Victoria Claflin Woodhull becomes the first woman 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 a US town, Argonia, Kansas.
1916 – Jeannette Rankin of Montana is the first woman elected to Congress. She serves just one term and then is elected again in 1940 for one term. During this time, she votes against participation in both World War I and World War II.
November 21, 1922 – Rebecca Felton is the first woman to serve in the US Senate. She is appointed by Georgia’s governor who wanted to win over female voters after his initial opposition to the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. She serves 24 hours in this temporary vacancy during the session break.
January 5, 1925 – Nellie Tayloe Ross is the first woman to serve as a governor of a state, Wyoming. In May 1933, she also becomes the first woman to serve as director of the US Mint.
1928 – Genevieve R. Cline is the first woman appointed as a US federal judge. She is nominated to the US Customs Court by President Calvin Coolidge.
1932 – Hattie Wyatt Caraway is the first woman elected to the US Senate. She wins a special election after taking her late husband’s seat by appointment. She serves Arkansas in the Senate for nearly 14 years.
1933 – Frances Perkins is the first woman to be appointed US secretary of labor, making her the first woman to serve on a presidential cabinet. She is largely responsible for crafting much of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” labor and Social Security legislation.
1948 – Margaret Chase Smith of Maine is the first woman to win election to both houses of Congress. (She was elected to the House in 1940.) Her landmark legislation is the Armed Services Integration Act (giving 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 serves as the ambassador to Denmark. Later, she also becomes the first woman to sign a diplomatic treaty, and the first woman to sit on the United Nations Security Council.
1960 – Oveta Culp Hobby becomes the first secretary of health, education, and welfare. Later, she is 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 placed in nomination for 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 the first Secretary of Education.
September 25, 1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor takes her seat as the first woman on the US Supreme Court. She was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
1983 – Elizabeth Dole becomes the first woman to serve as Secretary of Transportation.
1984 – Geraldine Ferraro is the first woman nominated for 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 appointed as US surgeon general.
January 21, 1993 – Hazel R. O’Leary is confirmed as the first woman to serve as US secretary of energy. She’s also the first African American to serve in that role.
March 11, 1993 – Janet Reno is confirmed as the first woman to serve as US attorney general.
August 5, 1993 – Sheila Widnall is confirmed by the Senate to serve as secretary of the Air Force, the first woman to serve as secretary of a branch of the US military.
January 23, 1997 – Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the first woman to serve as US secretary of state. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton.
December 17, 2000-2005 – Condoleezza Rice is the first woman to serve as national security adviser, to President George W. Bush.
January 2001 – Gale Norton becomes the first woman to serve as US secretary of the interior, and Ann Veneman is the first woman to serve as US secretary of agriculture. Both were nominated 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 serve as 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 a rank of four-star general in the US Army.
2009 – Janet Napolitano becomes the first woman to serve as US secretary of homeland security. Previously, Napolitano had been the first female chair of the National Governors Association and the first woman to serve as the attorney general of Arizona.
February 2014 – Janet Yellen becomes the first woman to chair the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
September 2014 – Megan Smith is the first woman to be appointed as US chief technology officer.
February 2015 – Megan Brennan becomes the first woman to serve as US postmaster general.
May 13, 2016 – Air Force General Lori Robinson is appointed to lead US Northern Command, becoming the nation’s first female combatant commander.
July 26, 2016 – Hillary Clinton is the first US woman to lead the ticket of a major party. She secures 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.
May 22, 2018 – Stacey Abrams wins the Georgia Democratic primary election for governor. She is the first black woman in the US to win a major party’s nomination for the office.
READ MORE: Women Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates: A Selected List from the Center for American Women and Politics.
1648 – Margaret Brent of Maryland appears before a court to request 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 earn bachelor’s degrees, graduating from Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.
1849 – Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman to receive a medical degree. She earns a M.D. from the Geneva Medical College in New York.
1866 – Lucy Hobbs is the first woman to receive a doctorate in dental surgery, graduating from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.
1869 – Arabella Mansfield is admitted to the Iowa State Bar, becoming the first woman admitted to a state bar.
1870 – Ada Kepley graduates from 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, earns a degree in chemistry.
1877 – Helen Magill becomes the first woman to earn a Ph.D., when she graduates from Boston University.
1739 – Elizabeth Timothy is the first woman newspaper publisher, of the South Carolina Gazette.
1867-1919 – Madam C.J. Walker is the first woman to become a self-made millionaire. Her business develops and sells hair care products for black women.
1934 – Lettie Pate Whitehead is the first woman to serve as a director of a major corporation, the Coca-Cola Company.
1967 – Isabel Benham is the first female partner at a Wall Street bond house, R.W. Pressprich & Co.
1972 – Juanita Kreps becomes the first woman to serve as a director of the New York Stock Exchange. In 1977, she is 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. Her creative home brand includes books, a magazine, home furnishings and entertaining and gardening TV shows.
2011 – Beth Mooney is the first woman to serve as CEO of a top 20 US bank, KeyCorp.
2013 – Mary Barra is the first woman to serve as CEO of a major automaker, General Motors.