The First: Advancing Gender Equity

ACCP Staff

Image: Women's History Month

Vice President Kamala Harris made history this year and has been quoted as saying, “My mother had a saying: ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.’” Vice President Harris is certainly not the only woman in history to be “the first.” In just the last 200 years, women around the world have experienced many firsts:

  • On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to graduate from medical school and become a doctor in the United States.
  • On December 10, 1869, the territory of Wyoming passed America’s first woman suffrage law granting women the right to vote and hold office. In 1890 when Wyoming became the 44th state, they were the first state to allow women the right to vote.
  • In 1872, Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president of the United States.
  • In 1898, Julia Morgan was the first woman admitted to the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris and later became the first woman licensed to practice architecture in the state of California.
  • In 1903, Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize.
  • In 1912, Woman Suffrage was supported for the first time at the national level by a major political party.
  • On October 16, 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States.
  • On April 2, 1917, Jeannette Rankin was sworn in as the first woman elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives.
  • In 1921, Edith Wharton became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize.
  • In May 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.
  • In 1933, Frances Perkins becomes the first female member of a Presidential cabinet serving as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor.
  • In 1960, Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike becomes the world’s first female prime minister. She paved the way for Indira Gandhi, India’s first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister and the first woman in modern history to lead a Muslim country, Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Central America’s first female leader.
  • On May 9, 1960, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the first commercially produced birth control pill in the world.
  • On June 16, 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel to space. Two decades later, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in June 1983.
  • In 1972, Katharine Graham becomes the first woman to become a Fortune 500 CEO as the leader of The Washington Company.
  • In 1975, Jumko Tabei was the first woman to summit Mount Everest.
  • In 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the first woman in the world to be elected head of state in a national election and served as President of Iceland from 1980 to 1996.
  • On September 25, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • In July 1984, U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro was selected as the running mate for Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, making her the first woman vice president nominee by a major party.
  • In 1987, Aretha Franklin becomes the first woman elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • In 1992, Manon Rheaume was the first woman to play in an NHL game.
  • On March 12, 1993, Janet Reno was sworn in as the first female attorney general of the United States.
  • On January 23, 1997, Madeline Albright was sworn in as the first female secretary of state in the United States.
  • In 2000, Beverley McLachlin became Canada’s first woman Supreme Court chief justice.
  • On March 24, 2002, Halle Berry becomes the first African American woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.
  • In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first black African woman to receive a Nobel Prize and Zaha Hadid became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
  • In 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman elected to head an African country.
  • In 2007, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House. She is also the first lawmaker to hold the office two times in more than 50 years.
  • In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director.
  • In July 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to receive a presidential nomination from a major political party.
  • In 2020, Katie Sowers became the first woman and first openly gay coach in Super Bowl history.
  • On January 20, 2021, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman and first woman of color vice president of the United States. She previously served as California’s first Black female attorney general.
  • On February 7, 2021, Sarah Thomas became the first female to officiate a Super Bowl.

Reading through all these firsts is both inspiring and heart-breaking – although we’ve come so far, there is still a long way to go as we strive to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (SDG 5). 2020 was an especially difficult year for women; we’ve all seen the headlines and for some of us, even lived the experience:

So, what can you do to advance gender equity? Here are some resources to help you learn, advocate, and support women and girls: