On May 5, 1809, Mary Dixon Kies received the first U.S. patent issued to a woman for inventing a process for weaving straw with silk or thread. Before then, most women inventors didn’t bother to patent their new inventions because they couldn’t legally own property independent of their husbands.
In 1903, Mary Anderson was granted a patent for the windshield wiper, which would become standard equipment on cars by 1916.
Margaret Sanger opened the first family planning and birth-control clinic in the United States in 1916. She fled to Europe after being indicted for violating obscenity laws that banned dissemination of information about contraception. She died in 1966, about a year after birth control was legalized in the United States.
Hattie McDaniel was the first Black person to win an Academy Award. In 1940, she won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. She died of breast cancer in 1952.
Ruby Nell Bridges Hall is an American activist known for being the first black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in 1960.
In 1966, Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) became the first African American elected to the Texas state Senate after Reconstruction and the first Black woman to serve there. In 1972, she was elected to U.S. Congress, the first Black Texan and first Southern Black woman in the U.S. Congress. She was also the first African American woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. A well known debater and speaker, two of her speeches are listed near the top of American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (No. 5 and No. 13).
Shirley Chisholm of New York was the first African American woman elected to Congress, in 1968. Four years later, she declared her candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination for president. She served as congresswoman for seven terms, from 1969 to 1983.
Trailblazer and pioneer Jessie Maple Patton was the first African American woman to be admitted into the International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television union in 1974. In 1981, she directed her first feature, Will, one of the first feature films directed by an African American woman.
Benazhir Bhutto (1953-2007) helped to move Pakistan from a dictatorship to democracy, becoming prime minister in 1988. She was the first female prime minister of a Muslim country. She sought to implement social reforms, in particular helping women and the poor. She was assassinated in 2007.
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for best director, for The Hurt Locker in 2010.
Businesswoman Sizakele Petunia Mzimela made history by becoming the first Black female to own an airline after her company, Blu Crane, kicked off operations at the Johannesburg airport on Sept. 1, 2015.
Compiled by Willie Balancier, Ya’Lisha Gatewood, Kristopher Johnson, Yunique Murphy, Johnathan Raphel , Deonte Satcher, Jalen Smith, and Ellis Young.
Helen Keller (1880-1968) A childhood disease left her deaf, mute, and blind. Helen Keller became an expert author and lecturer, educating nationally on behalf of others with similar disabilities.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) Franklin used her expertise in X-ray crystallography to obtain remarkably clear photographs of DNA diffraction patterns. Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins worked together at King’s College but did not like each other. Wilkins showed Watson one of these images in 1953 without Franklin’s permission and later on Watson, Crick, and Wilkins were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize. Franklin dies at age 37 from ovarian cancer, unacknowledged for her role in it.
The celebrated American aviator Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, on May 20 and 21, 1932. The trip set a new record of 14 hours, 56 minutes.
Author, Civil Rights Activist, Poet (1928–2014). Maya Angelou is a poet and award-winning author known for her acclaimed memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and her numerous poetry and essay collections.
Known as the “Queen of Tejano Music,” Selena was a beloved Latin recording artist who was killed by the president of her fan club
M.I.A. was born Mathangi Arulpragasam in London in 1975. Her parents are of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, and when she was six months old, her family moved back to Sri Lanka. Her father led a Tamil independence movement and was always on the move avoiding the Sri Lankan government, finally moving to India and then back to London in 1986. M.I.A. graduated from art school in the late 1990s and found success as a graphic artist and filmmaker. She moved into the musical realm after filming a documentary of the band Elastica’s 2001 tour (having previously done some album artwork for the band). Elastica’s lead singer, Justine Frischmann, lent M.I.A. a Roland MC-505 sequencer/drum machine, and she used it to record a demo tape. The demo tape included the single “Galang,” which in turn helped her gain a following online before she ever had a record contract. Soon, though, the contract followed, with British label XL Recordings signing her and officially releasing “Galang” (2003), which reached No. 8 on the U.S. dance charts. “Sunshowers” (2004) was the next release, although it failed to chart in the United States.
Fashion designer Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on Aug. 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. With her trademark suits and little black dresses, Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today. She herself became a much revered style icon.
Compiled by Willie Balancier, Ya’Lisha Gatewood, Kristopher Johnson, Yunique Murphy, Johnathan Raphel , Deonte Satcher, Jalen Smith, and Ellis Young