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58 Female Firsts

Befriend The Other Woman. Always. Or else you will be "jokingly" put into competition with her constantly and consistently, and you will be stirred up and provoked by some dudes to do this for their lame entertainment to write off the fact that they are in homosocial competition with each other.

She is not the threat.

She is never threat to you.

You have a common threat and the threat is exclusionism.

Befriend her and press your boobs against the glass ceiling together.”

Kristen Schaal


1. 1919, Sarah Breedlove became the first female self-made millionairess. The orphan was born to freed slaves; she later invented and sold homemade hair-care products to Black women through the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company that included factory, laboratory and beauty school to train sales agents.

2. In the 1930s, Isabel Benham was the first woman on Wall Street to study the male-dominated railroad industry. In 1964, she became the first female partner at a Wall Street bond firm. But early in her career, she'd sign her name as “I, Hamilton Benham” to avoid discrimination.

“You don’t have guarantees in this world. You’ve got to take chances. I fought like a son of a bitch to get ahead. I’m still fighting like a son of a bitch.”

Muriel Siebert

3. 1967, Muriel Siebert became the first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the only woman among 1365 men on the trading floor. Until then, women were only permitted on the NYSE trading floor as clerks and pages to fill shortages during World War II and the Korean War. Siebert was an outspoken advocate for women and minorities in the industry, donating millions of dollars from her brokerage and securities underwriting business to help other women get their start in business and finance. In 1977, Siebert became the first female Superintendent of Banks for New York, overseeing all of the state's banks, which had about $500 billion of assets under management. Not a single bank failed during her tenure. In 2016, Siebert Hall at the NYSE was dedicated in honour of her; this was the first time a room at the NYSE was named after an individual.

4. 1972, Katharine Graham became the first woman Fortune 500 CEO. In 1963 she started her leadership of The Washington’s Post, then a small Graham’s family-owned newspaper. Graham supported investigations into the Watergate scandal which would lead to the resignation of President Nixon. She was the first twentieth century female publisher of a major American newspaper. Graham's memoir, Personal History, won the Pulitzer prize in 1998.

Katharine Graham's portrait standing arms crossed in-front of her
Katharine Graham

5. 2011, Christine Lagarde is the first female president of the European Central Bank (2019– ). French lawyer and politician also was the first woman to serve as France’s finance minister (2007–11) and as the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund (2011–19).

Human Right and Activism

6. 1905, Austrian-Bohemian Baroness Bertha Sophie Felicita von Suttner became the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize after she wrote one of the nineteenth century's most influential books, the anti-war novel "Lay Down Your Arms".

7. 1916, American activist Margaret Sanger, a leader in the birth control movement, together with her sister Ethel Byrne and activist Fania Mindell, opens the first-ever birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York, and is subsequently arrested and imprisoned for maintaining a “public nuisance.”

Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger

8. 2004, Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first Black African woman to receive a Nobel Prize.


9. 2285-2250 BC, high priestess of Sumerian’s city-state of Ur (modern South Iraq) Enheduanna was the first known female writer and the first named author in world history; she is also the earliest known poet ever recorded.

“Nothing is more perplexing to a man than the mental process of a woman who reasons her emotions.”

Edith Wharton

10-11. 1918, Sara Teasdale became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her work “Love Songs”. Before establishment of the actual Pulitzer award for poetry in 1922, the award was called the Columbia University Poetry Prize and was given to authors of poetry books funded by a special grant from The Poetry Society. That’s why official first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Literature referred to Edith Wharton in 1921 for her novel “The Age Of Innocence”.

Sara Teasdale's portrait seating
Sara Teasdale

12. 2009, Carol Ann Duffy was appointed Poet Laureate. She is the first woman, the first Scottish-born poet and the first known LGBT poet to hold the position, resigning ten years after.

Military, aviation and aerospace

13. 1804, Sophie Blanchard was the first professional female aeronaut in history - the first woman to pilot hot air ballon. She learned her aeronautical skills from her husband, ballooning pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard. The couple faced bankruptcy as a result of Jean-Pierre’s poor business sense, and they believed a female balloonist was a novelty that might attract enough attention to solve their financial problems. In 1809 Jean-Pierre fell from the balloon and died roughly a year later due to severe injuries. After his death Sophie continued to support herself with ballooning demonstrations, making more than 60 ascents. She went on and entertained Napoleon Bonaparte, who promoted her to the role of "Aeronaut of the Official Festivals”. Unfortunately, Sophie also became the first woman to die in an aviation accident, when her balloon caught fire and crashed to the ground in 1819.

14. 1910, a former actress Raymonde de Laroche was inspired to take up flying after seeing the Wright Brothers’ flight demonstrations in 1907 in France. Though she wasn’t the first female aviator, de Laroche was the first woman to earn a pilot’s license. French pilot was issued license #36 of the International Aeronautics Federation by the Aero-Club of France.

Raymond de Laroche's pilot licence
Raymond de Laroche's pilot licence

15. 1910-11, Lilian Bland was the first woman in the world to design, build, and fly an aircraft.

16. 1914, Evgeniya Shakhovskaya was the first woman commissioned as a military pilot; she flew reconnaissance missions for the Russian Tzar.

17. 1932, piloting a Lockheed Vega 5B, Amelia Earhart made a nonstop solo transatlantic trip, becoming the first woman to achieve such a feat. She received the United States Distinguished Flying Cross for this accomplishment. She set many other records, was one of the first aviators to promote commercial air travel, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences, and was instrumental in the formation of “The Ninety-Nines”, an international network organisation for women pilots. During an attempt at becoming the first woman to complete a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean, on one of their final legs of the flight. Investigations ceased one and a half year later, officially declaring Earhart to be dead.

Amelia Earhart seating in a plane
Amelia Earhart

18. 1937, Turkey-born Sabiha Gökçen became the first military woman to fly combat missions. Istanbul’s second airport was named after her.

19. 1953, Jacqueline Cochran broke the sound barrier, flying a Canadair Sabre jet.

20-21. 1964, Jerrie Mock became the first woman to successfully make the around-the-world flight. She flew a single engine Cessna 180 christened the "Spirit of Columbus" and nicknamed "Charlie”. It took 29 days, 21 stopovers and 36,790 km. The flight was part of a "race" that developed between Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith. Smith's departure date and flight path was the same as the aviator Amelia Earhart's last flight (see above). Though not in direct competition with each other, media coverage soon began tracking the progress of each pilot fascinated with who would complete the journey first; Mock did. However, Smith had her share in female firsts - she is the first person in history to fly solo around the world at the equator, the first person to complete the longest single solo flight around the world, the first woman to fly a twin-engine aircraft around the world, the first woman to fly the Pacific Ocean from west to east in a twin-engine plane, the first woman to receive an airline transport rating at the age of 23, and the youngest woman to complete a solo flight around the world. In 1965 Smith tragically died piloting, age 28. Following year “The Ninety-Nines” set up a memorial fund for Smith, and in 1969 May 12 was declared as "Amelia Earhart-Joan Merriam Aviation Day".

Hey sky, take off your hat, I’m on my way!”

Valentina Tereshkova

22. 1963, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space, orbiting Earth 48 times in 71 hours on board the spacecraft Vostok 6. She is also the first and only woman to undertake a solo mission in space.

Astronaut Valentina Tereshkova in a spacesuit
Valentina Tereshkova

Music, Cinematography & Theatre

23. 1625, Italian Francesca Caccini was 38 years old when “La Liberazione di Ruggiero”, the opera she composed, was performed for the first time in Florence, making her the first female opera composer. She was not only an accomplished composer who wrote or co-wrote 15 more opera works in her lifetime, but also a lute player, poet, and music teacher.

24. 1927, from humble beginnings in Missouri, Josephine Baker became the first African-American woman to star in a major motion picture, in silent film “Siren of the Tropics”. The international sensation of 20s and 30s Paris and Europe’s highest-paid entertainer of her time, she was dubbed “The Black Venus”. She also highly celebrated for her civil right activism and being a mother of an adopted, multiracial family of 12 children.

Portrait of Josephine Baker seating
Josephine Baker


25. 1930, Frances Marion was the first woman to win an Academy Award. Her work “The Big House” received Best Adapted Screenplay Award. During the course of her career, she wrote over 325 scripts.

26. 1940, Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to receive an Oscar for her portrayal of the maid Mammy in “Gone with the Wind”.

27. 1958, at the first-ever Grammy Ceremony renowned jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald was the first woman to win multiple Grammy Awards. The successful artist took home the award for Best Vocal Performance, Best Female and Jazz Performance, Soloist. Overall Fitzgerald won fourteen Grammy Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement in 1967.

"There's a part of you that always remains a child, no matter how mature you get, how sophisticated or weary."

Barbra Streisand

28. 1984, Barbara Streisand became the first woman to win a Golden Globe Award for Best Director. The film was “Yenti”, in which Streisand starred, playing a woman pretending to be a man.

29. 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first woman ever to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. The “Queen of Soul” was not only recognised in the music field but celebrated for her contributions to the civil right movement.

30-31. It wasn’t until 1998 that a woman won a Tony Award (excellence recognition in Broadway Theatre) for Best Director of a musical. That was Julie Taymor for “The Lion King”. Later in 2013, Cyndi Lauper became the first woman to solo win a Tony Award for Best Original Score for “Kinky Boots”.

32. 2009, for the film “The Hurt Locker”, American director Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for directing. Since Oscar’s first ceremony in 1929, only seven women have ever been nominated in the category and only one has ever won. The Iraq war film also won six academy awards that night, including best picture and best original screenplay. The independent movie beat ubiquitous “Avatar” (directed by Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron) and other major-motion productions for best film. Similarly, she was also the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America Award for outstanding directing and British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) director’s prize.

Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow


33. Around 2950 BC, MerNeith, the daughter of one pharaoh, wife of another, and mother of another, is believed to have ruled Egypt in her own right for some period of time. However Kubaba is the first recorded female ruler in history. She was queen of Sumer, in what is now Iraq about 2400 BC.

34. 1917, Yevgenia Bosch is sometimes considered the first modern woman leader of a national government, having been Minister of Interior and the Acting Leader of the provisional Soviet government of Ukraine. For that reason she is also sometimes considered the first Prime Minister of independent Ukraine.

35. 1960, after Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s party won the general election in Ceylon (later Sri Lanka), she became the world’s first woman prime minister. She was ousted in 1965 but returns to the office two more times and helped create a political dynasty.

36. 1980, Icelandic politician Vigdis Finnbogadottir, a divorced single mother, became the first directly elected female president. With a presidency of exactly sixteen years, she also remains the longest-serving elected female head of state of any country to date.

Vigdis Finnbogadottir at public speech after elections
Vigdis Finnbogadottir

37. 2006 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia is the first woman elected to head an African country, receiving some 80 percent of the female vote after an effective campaign to register women, and is sworn in as president later that year.

38. 2015, Laura Kuenssberg is the first woman to hold the position of political editor for BBC.

Science, maths and education

39. c.1236, Bettisia Gozzadini was the first woman to teach at a university. She lectured in law at the University of Bologna, Italy.

40. 1815-1852, What do you get when you cross poetry and mathematics? Computer programming. To write an elegant code is in fact a term and huge turn on for programming nerds.

Ada Lovelace, the only child of poet Lord Byron and mathematician Lady Byron, was not only the first female computer programmer, but also the first computer programmer overall. Though some computer scientists and historians of computing claim otherwise; attributing the tittle to polymath Charles Babbage. Being Ada’s friend and colleague, he was impressed by Lovelace's intellect and analytic skills. He called her “The Enchantress of Number”. Lovelace died at the age of 36 from uterine cancer. Three months prior her death she lost contact with her husband after confessing something to him which caused him to abandon her bedside. It is not known what she told him. The second Tuesday of every October marks Ada Lovelace Day, a day founded in 2009 to celebrate the achievements of women in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Ada Lovelace's portrait
Ada Lovelace

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

Marie Curie

41. 1903, Polish-born French physicist Marie Curie became the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize, receiving the award in physics for pioneering research on radioactivity with her husband, Pierre Curie, and Henri Becquerel. Curie earned her own Nobel Prize in 1911 in chemistry, becoming the first person and the only woman to win the award twice and she remains the only winner of Nobel Prize in two scientific fields, male or female. In addition, she was the first female professor of the University of Paris.


42. 1894-95, Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky became the first woman to bicycle around the world, a feat that took her fifteen months to accomplish. When she published an account of her adventures in the New York World in 1895, the newspaper headline described it as "The Most Extraordinary Journey Ever Undertaken by a Woman". Despite criticism that she traveled more "with" a bicycle than on one, she proved a formidable cyclist at impromptu local races en route across America. After having completed her travel, she built a media career around engagement with popular conception of what it was to be female.

43. 1900, Charlotte Cooper, English tennis player won the tennis singles event, becoming the first female Olympic champion. She also won a gold medal in the mixed doubles competition.

44. 1926, Gertrude Caroline Ederle became the first woman to swim across the English Channel in a new record time of 14hrs 39mins. She was the first person to swim front crawl. American competition swimmer, Olympic champion, and world record-holder in five events, she was nicknamed "Queen of the Waves."

Gertrude Ederle at a 'Dover' hotel after her successful swim with her sister Margaret, previous Channel swimmers Burgess on left and Helmi on right.
Gertrude Ederle at a 'Dover' hotel after her successful swim with her sister Margaret, previous Channel swimmers Burgess on left and Helmi on right

45. 1927, Russian-born British-Czechoslovak chess player, Vera Menchik became the first women’s chess champion and successfully defended her title six times over the next 17 years. She would lose only one game over the course of these seven championship tournaments.

46. 1956-64, former Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, with 18 Olympic medals, is the most successful female Olympian. Nine of those were gold, a record for most golds by a female athlete at the Olympics.

 Larisa Latynina practising gymnastics on pommel horse
Larisa Latynina

47. 2010, Amy Elizabeth Fearn became the first woman to referee in The Football League as the main referee. Having refereed football since age 14, she became only the second woman after Wendy Toms (the first female ever to fulfil assistant referee at Premier League level) to rise to the position of assistant referee in English professional football.

48. 2014, Corinne Diacre became the first woman to coach a men's professional football team (Clermont).

49. 2014, Amy Hughes, from England, ran 53 marathons in 53 days, thus setting the record for the most marathons run on consecutive days by any person, male or female.

50. 2016, American fencing champion Ibtihaj Muhammad is known for being the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics, winning bronze wearing it. Doll manufacturer "Barbie" recreated a hijab-wearing figurine in her honour in 2018.

Ibtihaj Muhammad's portrait holding fencing sword
Ibtihaj Muhammad


51. 1766-69, two centuries after Magellan sailed around the world, Jeanne Baret became the first female to circumnavigate the globe sailing. With her chest wrapped in bandages she joined Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s expedition disguised as a man, calling herself Jean Baret.

52. 1935, Regina Jonas became the first woman ordained as a rabbi.

53. 1966, before Naomi Campbell there was Donyale Luna, the first Black supermodel, and she was the first African American model to appear on the cover of British Vogue in March 1966.

Donyale Luna sits on a chair holding a lit cigarette.
Donyale Luna

54. 1975, Junko Tabei co-led a group of 15 women to the summit of Mt. Everest, becoming the first female ever to reach the peak. She would eventually ascend the highest summit on every continent, becoming the first woman to conquer “Seven Summits” just before her death in 2016.

55. 1988, Australia-native, Kay Cottee is the first woman who sailed around the globe, single-handedly, non-stop and unassisted. It took her 189 days.

56-57. 1992-93, Ann Bancroft earned the distinction of being the first known woman in history to cross the ice to both the North and South Poles. A four-woman expedition led by Ann to the South Pole on skis; was the first all-female expedition to cross the ice to the South Pole, a 67-day journey of 1,060 km. In 2001, Bancroft and Norwegian adventurer Liv Arnesen became the first women to ski across Antarctica. Latter made international headlines becoming the first woman in the world to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole in 1994.

I used to not like being called a 'woman architect.' I'm an architect, not just a woman architect. The guys used to tap me on the head and say 'you're OK for a girl.' But I see an incredible amount of need from other women for reassurance that it can be done, so I don't mind anymore.”

Zaha Hadid

58. 2004, Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, nicknamed “Queen of the curve” and noted for her radical deconstructivism designs, becomes the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. In 2012, she was made a Dame by Elizabeth II for services to architecture, and in 2016, the month preceding her death, she became the first woman to be individually awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute Of British Architects.

Zaha Hadid's portrait.
Zaha Hadid

"Woman is a ray of God.

She is not that earthly beloved:

she is creative, not created."



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