CNN Editorial Research
Here is a look at women in government, education, business and sports who have broken through the glass ceiling and become the first in their respective positions in the United States.
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.
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 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.
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.
December 7, 2018 – Beth Kimber becomes the first woman to lead the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.
December 31, 2020 – Pelosi’s office announces the appointment of Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben as chaplain of the House of Representatives — the first woman to serve in the role in either chamber.
October 19, 2021 – Dr. Rachel Levine is sworn in as the first female four-star admiral for the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Levine is also the first openly transgender four-star officer across the nation’s eight uniformed services.
January 20, 2021 – Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president of the United States, making her America’s first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president.
November 19, 2021 – US President Joe Biden temporarily transfers power to Harris while he is under anesthesia for a routine colonoscopy. Harris becomes the first woman with presidential power.
December 15, 2021 – Keechant Sewell is selected as the next New York City police commissioner, leading the nation’s largest police department. She becomes the first woman to lead the NYPD in its 176-year history. Her appointment begins in January 2022.
December 1, 2022 – Admiral Linda Fagan becomes the first woman to lead a branch of the armed forces, as the 27th commandant of the US Coast Guard.
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.
2011 – Beth Mooney is the first woman to serve as CEO of a top 20 US bank, KeyCorp.
September 10, 2020 – Citigroup names Jane Fraser as CEO, the first woman to lead a major US bank.
December 12, 2022 – The Wall Street Journal names Emma Tucker as its next editor. Tucker will be the first woman to head the newspaper.
1997 – Dee Kantner and Violet Palmer become the first women to serve as referees in the NBA.
April 8, 2015 – Sarah Thomas becomes the first female 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 in the Super Bowl.
July 20, 2020 – Alyssa Nakken, the first female coach on a Major League Baseball staff in league history, becomes the first woman to coach on the field during a major league game. Nakken coached first base during an exhibition game between the San Francisco Giants and 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 woman GM in Major League Baseball history. She is believed to be the first woman hired as a GM to lead a professional men’s sports team in any North American major league.
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