Every March in the United States, National Women’s History Month celebrates the contributions of women to the nation’s history and culture. Each year, the President issues a proclamation calling on all citizens to observe March as National Women’s History Month, as well as a separate proclamation on International Women’s Day, March 8.
The origins of National Women’s History Month can be traced to Sonoma County, California, where in 1978 the Commission on the Status of Women initiated Women’s History Week. Two years later, President Jimmy Carter asked Americans to celebrate women’s historic accomplishments in conjunction with International Women’s Day. Congress established the first National Women’s History Week in 1981 and expanded it to a month in 1987.
U.S. Embassy Prague Announces 2nd Annual Women’s Empowerment Grant
The Embassy is soliciting proposals with outstanding merit that aim to promote gender equality, remove barriers to leadership opportunities and combat stereotypes, including by engaging men in these efforts. More information on the Women’s Empowerment Grant page.
Milestones in U.S. Women’s History
1776 Abigail Adams is an early champion of women’s rights. In a letter to her husband John Adams — who later becomes the second U.S. president — she urges lawmakers of the Continental Congress to “Remember the Ladies…. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.”
Related article: “Abigail Smith Adams: ‘Remember the Ladies’“
1848 U.S. Women’s Rights Movement is sparked at a convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Delegates issue a Declaration of Sentiments calling for equality with men, including the right to vote.
Related articles: “Seneca Falls Convention Began Women’s Right’s Movement“ and “A Woman’s Right To Vote“
1849 Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States. She becomes a pioneer in women’s education in medicine.
1850 Escaped slave Harriet Tubman becomes a leader in the Underground Railroad, helping hundreds of slaves to their freedom in the years before the Civil War. During the war, she serves as a nurse, spy and scout for the Union forces.
Related article: “Harriet Tubman: Leader of the Underground Railroad“
1851 Abolitionist and former slave Sojourner Truth gives her famous Ain’t I a Woman? speech to the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. She is an eloquent champion of the rights of African Americans and women.
Related article: “Sojourner Truth: Antislavery Activist, Advocate of Women’s Rights“
1869 Wyoming, then a U.S. territory, is the first jurisdiction to grant women the right to vote. Many Wyoming legislators — all male — hope it will attract more single marriageable women to the region.
1870 Ellen Swallow Richards is the first woman in America accepted to any school of science and technology (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). She becomes a pioneer in sanitary engineering and a founder of home economics in the United States.
1878 Soprano Marie Seilka is the first African-American artist to perform in the White House; she sings for President Rutherford B. Hayes.
1881 Clara Barton founds the American Red Cross, expanding on the original concept of the International Red Cross to include assisting in national disasters as well as wars.
Related article: “Clara Harlowe Barton“
1887 Susanna Madora Selter is elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas, becoming the first female U.S. mayor years before women received the right to vote nationwide.
Related item: Photo Galley: Female Political Pioneers
1887 Journalist Nellie Bly pioneers investigative journalism. As a reporter for the New York World, she feigns insanity and is committed to a women’s insane asylum to expose abusive conditions. In 1889, she circles the globe in 72 days, a world record.
Related article: “Nellie Bly“
1900 Golfer Margaret Abbott is the first American woman to win a medal in the Olympics. At the Paris games, she takes the gold medal.
1916 Jeannette Rankin of Montana is the first woman elected to Congress, serving two nonconsecutive terms. She casts the only vote in Congress against war on Japan after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Related article: “Jeannette Pickering Rankin“
1920 The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote, becomes law when it is ratified by two-thirds of the states. The League of Women Voters is founded.
Related article: “League of Women Voters Educates U.S. Electorate“
1921 Bessie Coleman becomes the first African-American woman to earn an aviation pilot’s license and the first American of any race or gender to earn an international pilot’s license.
1923 Family planning pioneer Margaret Sanger opens the first legal, physician-run birth control clinic in the United States, in New York City. In 1965, a Supreme Court ruling (Griswold v. Connecticut) legalizes birth control for married couples in the United States.
1925 Nellie Tayloe Ross is the first woman governor of a state (Wyoming). In 1933, she is appointed first female director of the U.S. Mint.
1926 Gertrude Ederle is the first woman to swim the English Channel. Only five men swam the Channel before her, and she cuts two hours off their fastest time.
1931 Jane Addams is the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams is an advocate for the poor, a pacifist, a reformer and a feminist.
Related article: “Jane Addams“
1932 Amelia Earhart makes the first solo flight by a woman across the Atlantic. She is the first woman to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Related item: Photo Gallery: Great Women of the Twentieth Century
1932 Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas, appointed to fill her late husband’s Senate seat, becomes the first woman to win a Senate seat in her own right when she wins a special election. She is also the first to chair a Senate committee and to preside over the Senate.
Related article: “Hattie Wyatt Caraway“
1933 Frances Perkins is sworn in as secretary of labor. She was appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the first woman ever to serve in the U.S. Cabinet.
1933 Eleanor Roosevelt transforms the role of first lady during her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. She is the first president’s wife to hold regular press conferences and go on the lecture circuit, and her social activism gives a voice to the powerless: minorities, women and disadvantaged.
Related article: “Anna Eleanor Roosevelt“
1947 Gerty Cori becomes the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences (physiology or medicine), and her research advances the treatment of diabetes.
Related article: “RAISE Project Helps Women Scientists Win Recognition“
1953 Jacqueline Cochran is the first woman to break the sound barrier. During her career, she sets more speed and altitude records than any of her contemporaries, male or female.
1955 Rosa Parks is arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, thus sparking the U.S. civil rights movement.
Related article: “U.S. Marks 50th Anniversary of Montgomery Bus Boycott“
1955 Marian Anderson becomes the first black person, American or otherwise, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. (Her famous open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington took place on Easter Sunday, 1939.)
1962 Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, calls attention to the dangers of agricultural pesticides. It inspires a national environmental movement in the United States.
Related items: Rachel Carson: Pen Against Poison and Photo Gallery: Women Working to Protect the Environment
1963 Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique, which galvanizes the women’s rights movement. The Equal Pay Act prohibits paying women less than men for the same job.
1964 Patsy Mink of Hawaii is the first Asian-Pacific-American woman elected to Congress. Margaret Chase Smith becomes the first woman to run for a U.S. presidential nomination on a major party ticket (Republican; Barry Goldwater wins the nomination).
1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race or sex.
Related article: “Nation Celebrates Anniversary of Landmark Civil Rights Law“
1968 Shirley Chisholm is the first black woman elected to Congress. In 1972, she becomes the first black candidate for a presidential nomination on a major-party ticket (Democrat), and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination (George McGovern wins the nomination).
Related article: “Shirley Chisholm Dead at 80.”
1972 Title IX of the Education Amendments bans sex discrimination in schools. Enrollment of women in athletics programs and professional schools increases dramatically.
Related article: “U.S. Gender-Equity Law Led to Boom in Female Sports Participation“
1978 Women’s History Week first is celebrated in Sonoma County, California. (Congress passes a resolution on National Women’s History Week in 1981.)
1981 Sandra Day O’Connor is the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, serving until 2006. Jeane Kirkpatrick becomes the first female U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Related items: “Sandra Day O’Connor“ and “The Supreme Court and the United States”
1983 Astronaut Sally Ride is the first American woman in space, flying on the shuttle Challenger. She flies a second shuttle mission in 1984.
Related article: “Women Star in Cosmic Quest“
1984 Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first woman nominated for vice president by a major party (Democrat) when she is selected as Walter Mondale’s running mate.
1985 Wilma Mankiller is elected first female principal chief of an American Indian nation, the Cherokee Nation.
Related article: “Wilma Pearl Mankiller.”
1987 Congress expands Women’s History Week to a month-long event celebrated in March.
Related article: “U.S. Celebrates Women’s Contributions to the World Every March”
1989 Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida is the first Hispanic-American woman elected to Congress.
1992 Astronaut Mae Jemison, a physician, is the first African-American woman in space, flying aboard the space shuttle Endeavour as a mission specialist.
Related item: Photo Gallery: Space Shuttle
1993 Janet Reno is the first woman attorney general of the United States. Toni Morrison becomes the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
Related item: Multicultural Literature in the United States Today
1995 Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Collins is the first woman to pilot a space shuttle. In 1999, she becomes the first woman to command a space shuttle.
1997 Madeleine Albright is sworn is as the first woman U.S. secretary of state. Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, she became a U.S. citizen in 1957.
2001 Elaine Chao becomes secretary of labor, the first Asian-American woman to be appointed to a president’s Cabinet in American history.
2005 Condoleezza Rice is the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state.
2006 Captain Nicole Malachowski debuts as the first female demonstration pilot in the U.S. Air Force’s air demonstration squadron team, the Thunderbirds.
Related article: “First Female Demonstration Pilot Joins U.S. Fighter Jet Team“
2007 Nancy Pelosi is sworn in as the first female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, one of the most powerful posts in the U.S. government.
Related article: “First Female Speaker to Preside at State of Union“
2007-2008 Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first woman to become a leading candidate for a presidential nomination, mounting a fierce challenge against Barack Obama, the ultimate winner of the Democratic Party’s nomination and election. In 2009, Clinton is sworn in as secretary of state, becoming the first former first lady to serve in a president’s Cabinet.
Related items: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Calls for Robust Diplomacy“ and Photo Gallery: Women in Government
2009 Michelle Obama becomes the first African-American first lady of the United States.
Related items: “Michelle Obama Enters White House with Substance and Style“ and Photo Gallery: U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama Through the Years
2009 In the 111th Congress, a record 17 women serve in the Senate and 73 women serve in the House of Representatives. This total of 90 seats equals 17 percent of the 535 seats in Congress. In addition, three women serve as delegates to the House of Representatives from Guam, the Virgin Islands and Washington.
Related article: “Parties Recruit More Women to Vote Than to Run“