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Firsts in American History
(January 21, 2009)
Year First To: Person and event
1650 Woman Anne Bradstreet's book of poems, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, is published in England, making her the first published American woman writer.
1707 Woman Henrietta Johnston begins to work as a portrait artist in Charles Town (now Charleston), South Carolina, making her the first known professional woman artist in America.
1746 Black Woman Poet: Lucy Terry, 1746, "Bar's Fight." It is her only surviving poem.
1766 Woman Mary Katherine Goddard and her widowed mother become publishers of the Providence Gazette newspaper and the annual West's Almanack, making her the first woman publisher in America. In 1775, Goddard became the first woman postmaster in the country (in Baltimore), and in 1777 she became the first printer to offer copies of the Declaration of Independence that included the signers' names. In 1789 Goddard opened a Baltimore bookstore, probably the first woman in America to do so.
1767 Woman Anne Catherine Hoof Green takes over her late husband's printing and newspaper business, becoming the first American woman to run a print shop. The following year she is named the official printer for the colony of Maryland.
1773 Black Woman Poet (published): Phillis Wheatley, 1773, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Considered the founder of African-American literature.
1790 Woman Mother Bernardina Matthews establishes a Carmelite convent near Port Tobacco, Maryland, the first community of Roman Catholic nuns in the Thirteen Colonies. (The Ursuline convent established in New Orleans in 1727 was still in French territory.)
1792 Woman Suzanne Vaillande appears in The Bird Catcher, in New York, the first ballet presented in the U.S. She was also probably the first woman to work as a choreographer and set designer in the United States.
1795 Woman Anne Parrish establishes, in Philadelphia, the House of Industry, the first charitable organization for women in America.
1809 Woman Mary Kies becomes the first woman to receive a patent, for a method of weaving straw with silk.
1809 Woman Elizabeth Ann Seton establishes the first American community of the Sisters of Charity, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In 1975 she became the first native-born American to be made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
1821 Black First patent holder: Thomas L. Jennings, 1821, for a dry-cleaning process.
1823 Black College graduate (B.A.): Alexander Lucius Twilight, 1823,
1836 Black State elected official: Alexander Lucius Twilight, 1836, the Vermont legislature.
1837 Black M.D. degree: James McCune Smith, 1837, University of Glasgow;
1849 Woman Elizabeth Blackwell receives her M.D. degree from the Medical Institution of Geneva, N.Y., becoming the first woman in the U.S. with a medical degree.
1853 Woman Antoinette Blackwell becomes the first American woman to be ordained a minister in a recognized denomination (Congregational).
1855 Black Local elected official: John Mercer Langston, 1855, town clerk of Brownhelm Township, Ohio.
1856 Black College president: Daniel A. Payne, 1856, Wilberforce University, Ohio.
1859 Black Woman Novelist: Harriet Wilson, Our Nig (1859).
1862 Black Woman Middlebury College; first black woman to receive a B.A. degree: Mary Jane Patterson, 1862, Oberlin College.
1864 Black Woman Rebecca Lee Crumpler becomes the first black woman to receive an M.D. degree. She graduated from the New England Female Medical College.
1866 Woman Lucy Hobbs becomes the first woman to graduate from dental school, the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.
1869 Black U.S. diplomat: Ebenezer D. Bassett, 1869, became minister-resident to Haiti;
1869 Woman Arabella Mansfield is granted admission to practice law in Iowa, making her the first woman lawyer. A year later, Ada H. Kepley, of Illinois, graduates from the Union College of Law in Chicago. She is the first woman lawyer to graduate from a law school.
1870 Black U.S. Representative: Joseph Rainey became a Congressman from South Carolina in 1870 and was reelected four more times.
1870 Black U.S. Senator: Hiram Revels became Senator from Mississippi from Feb. 25, 1870, to March 4, 1871, during Reconstruction.
1872 Woman Victoria Claflin Woodhull becomes the first woman presidential candidate in the United States when she declared herself a candidate representing the Equal Rights Party. Her platform included an eight-hour work day, graduated income tax, and new divorce law. Since women could not yet vote, her campaign did not get far.
1873 Black Governor (appointed): P.B.S. Pinchback served as governor of Louisiana from Dec. 9, 1872-Jan. 13, 1873, during impeachment proceedings against the elected governor.
1873 Woman Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman to be admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earns her B.S. degree. She becomes the first female professional chemist in the U.S.
1876 Black Ph.D.: Edward A. Bouchet, 1876, received a Ph.D. from Yale University.
1879 Woman Belva Ann Lockwood becomes the first woman admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.
1879 Woman Mary Baker Eddy establishes the Church of Christ, Scientist, becoming the first woman to found a major religion, Christian Science.
1885 Black Woman Sarah E. Goode, 1885, became the first African-American woman to receive a patent, for a bed that folded up into a cabinet.
1885 Black Woman Sarah E. Goode becomes the first African-American woman to receive a patent, for a bed that folded up into a cabinet. Goode, who owned a furniture store in Chicago, intended the bed to be used in apartments.
1887 Woman Susanna Medora Salter becomes the first woman elected mayor of an American town, in Argonia, Kansas.
1893 Black Heart surgery pioneer: Daniel Hale Williams, 1893.
1896 Woman Alice Guy Blaché, the first American woman film director, shoots the first of her more than 300 films, a short feature called La Fee aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy).
1897 Woman H.H.A. Beach's "Gaelic Symphony" is the first symphony by a woman performed in the United States, and possibly the world.
1899 Black World cycling champion: Marshall W. "Major" Taylor, 1899.
1901 Woman On October 24, 1901, Annie Edson Taylor, a schoolteacher from Michigan, becomes the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
1904 Black Olympic medalist (Summer games): George Poage, 1904, won two bronze medals in the 200 m hurdles and 400 m hurdles.
1907 Black Rhodes Scholar: Alain L. Locke, 1907.
1908 Black Heavyweight boxing champion: Jack Johnson, 1908.
1908 Black Olympic gold medalist (Summer games): John Baxter "Doc" Taylor, 1908, won a gold medal as part of the 4 x 400 m relay team.
1908 Black Woman Millionaire: Madame C. J. Walker.
1909 Black Explorer, North Pole: Matthew A. Henson, 1909, accompanied Robert E. Peary on the first successful U.S. expedition to the North Pole.
1914 Woman Mary Davenport-Engberg is the first woman to conduct a symphony orchestra, in Bellingham, Washington.
1916 Woman Jeannette Rankin, of Montana, is the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
1917 Black Combat pilot: Georgia-born Eugene Jacques Bullard, 1917, denied entry into the U.S. Army Air Corps because of his race, served throughout World War I in the French Flying Corps. He received the Legion of Honor, France's highest honor, among many other decorations.
1919 Black Editor, Harvard Law Review: Charles Hamilton Houston, 1919. Barack Obama became the first President of the Harvard Law Review.
1919 Black Woman Carmen Jones. Oscar, Best Actress Nominee
1919 Black Film director: Oscar Micheaux, 1919, wrote, directed, and produced The Homesteader, a feature film.
1921 Black Women In 1921, three individuals became the first U.S. black women to earn Ph.D.s: Georgiana Simpson, University of Chicago; Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, University of Pennsylvania; and Eva Beatrice Dykes, Radcliffe College.
1921 Black Woman Licensed Pilot: Bessie Coleman, 1921.
1921 Woman American novelist Edith Wharton becomes the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She wins the award for her novel The Age of Innocence.
1922 Black NFL football coach: Fritz Pollard, 1922-1937.
1922 Woman Rebecca Felton, of Georgia, is appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill a temporary vacancy. The first woman senator, she serves for only two days.
1924 Black Olympic gold medalist (Summer games; individual): DeHart Hubbard, 1924, for the long jump;
1925 Woman Nellie Tayloe Ross becomes the first woman to serve as governor of a state, in Wyoming. In the fall of 1924 she was elected to succeed her deceased husband, William Bradford Ross. (Miriam Amanda "Ma" Ferguson is inaugurated governor of Texas days later.)
1926 Woman American Gertrude Ederle becomes the first woman to swim across the English Channel.
1931 Woman Maxine Dunlap becomes first American woman to earn a glider pilot license.
1932 Woman Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, traveling from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Ireland in approximately 15 hours.
1932 Woman Hattie Wyatt Caraway, of Arkansas, becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
1933 Woman Frances Perkins is appointed secretary of labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making her the first woman member of a presidential cabinet.
1934 Woman Lettie Pate Whitehead becomes the first American woman to serve as a director of a major corporation, The Coca-Cola Company.
1934 Woman American adventurer Jeanette Piccard sets an altitude record for female balloonists when she ascends 57,579 feet.
1939 Black Explorer, South Pole: George Gibbs, 1939-1941 accompanied Richard Byrd.
1940 Black General: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., 1940-1948.
1940 Black Inventor of the blood bank: Dr. Charles Drew, 1940.
1940 Black Woman First Oscar: Hattie McDaniel, 1940, supporting actress, Gone with the Wind.
1940 Black Portrayal on a postage stamp: Booker T. Washington, 1940 (and also 1956).
1945 Black Member of the New York City Opera: Todd Duncan, 1945.
1946 Black Federal Judge: William Henry Hastie, 1946;
1946 Woman Mother Maria Frances Cabrini (1850-1917) is canonized by Pope Pius XII. She is the first U.S. citizen (she was born in Italy) to become a saint.
1946 Woman Edith Houghton becomes the first woman hired as a first major-league baseball scout.
1947 Black Major league baseball player: Jackie Robinson, 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers.
1948 Black Woman the first woman was Alice Coachman, who won the high jump in 1948.
1950 Black Nobel Peace Prize winner: Ralph J. Bunche received the prize in 1950 for mediating the Arab-Israeli truce.
1950 Black Woman Pulitzer Prize winner: Gwendolyn Brooks, 1950, won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.
1953 Black NFL quarterback: Willie Thrower, 1953.
1953 Woman Jerrie Cobb is the first woman in the U.S. to undergo astronaut testing. NASA, however, cancels the women's program in 1963. It is not until 1983 that an American woman gets sent into space.
1954 Black Woman Oscar, Best Actress Nominee: Dorothy Dandridge, 1954,
1955 Black Woman Member of the Metropolitan Opera Company: Marian Anderson, 1955.
1956 Black Network television show host: Nat King Cole, 1956, "The Nat King Cole Show";
1957 Black Woman Tennis champion: Althea Gibson became the first black person to play in and win Wimbledon and the United States national tennis championship. She won both tournaments twice, in 1957 and 1958. In all, Gibson won 56 tournaments, including five
1958 Black Male Grammy Award winner: Count Basie, 1958.
1958 Black Woman Female Grammy Award winner: Ella Fitzgerald, 1958.
1958 Black NHL hockey player: Willie O'Ree, 1958, Boston Bruins.1
1958 Black The first black male champion was Arthur Ashe who won the 1968 U.S. Open, the 1970 Australian Open, and the 1975 Wimbledon championship.
1959 Black Arthur Mitchell, 1959, New York City Ballet, Principal dancer in a major dance company.
1960 Woman Oveta Culp Hobby becomes the first woman to serve as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. She is also the first director of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and the first woman to receive the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal.
1960 Woman Jacqueline Cochran breaks the sound barrier by flying an F-86 over Roger's Dry Lake, California, at the speed of 652.337 miles per hour. Eleven years later, she flies at a speed of 1,429.2 miles per hour, more than twice the speed of sound.
1962 Black Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Jackie Robinson, 1962.
1964 Black Martin Luther King, Jr., became the second African-American Peace Prize winner in 1964. (See King's Nobel acceptance speech.)
1964 Woman Margaret Chase Smith, of Maine, becomes the first woman nominated for president of the United States by a major political party, at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco.
1965 Black Woman Patricia Harris became the first black female ambassador (1965; Luxembourg).
1965 Black Star of a network television show: Bill Cosby, 1965, "I Spy".
1965 Woman Patsy Takemoto Mink, of Hawaii, is the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress. She served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 24 years.
1966 Black Edward Brooke became the first African-American Senator since Reconstruction, 1966-1979.
1966 Black U.S. cabinet member: Robert C. Weaver, 1966-1968, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Lyndon Johnson;
1966 Black Woman Constance Baker Motley became the first black woman federal judge, 1966.
1967 Black Mayor of major city: Carl Stokes, Cleveland, Ohio, 1967-1971.
1967 Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice: Thurgood Marshall, 1967-1991.
1967 Black First astronaut: Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., 1967, was the first black astronaut, but he died in a plane crash during a training flight and never made it into space.
1967 Woman Muriel "Mickey" Siebert becomes the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and the first woman to head one of its member firms.
1967 Woman Althea Gibson is the first African-American tennis player to win a singles title at Wimbledon.
1969 Black Woman The first black female U.S. Representative was Shirley Chisholm, Congresswoman from New York, 1969-1983.
1969 Black Hollywood director: Gordon Parks directed and wrote The Learning Tree for Warner Brothers in 1969.
1969 Black Woman Shirley Chisholm, of New York, becomes the first African-American woman in Congress. Her motto is, "Unbought and unbossed." She served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years.
1969 Black Woman Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) becomes the first black woman U.S. Representative.
1970 Black Pulitzer Prize winner in Drama: Charles Gordone, 1970, for his play No Place To Be Somebody.
1970 Woman Diane Crump becomes the first female jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby.
1972 Woman Sally Jean Priesand is ordained as the first woman rabbi in the United States.
1972 Woman Juanita Kreps becomes the first woman director of the New York Stock Exchange. She later becomes the first woman appointed Secretary of Commerce.
1975 Woman Elizabeth Ann Seton is canonized, making her the first American-born saint.
1976 Black Poet Laureate: Robert Hayden, 1976-1978;
1976 Woman Sarah Caldwell becomes the first woman to conduct at New York's Metropolitan Opera House.
1977 Black Woman the first black female cabinet minister was Patricia Harris, 1977, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Jimmy Carter.
1977 Black U.S. Representative to the UN: Andrew Young (1977-1979).
1981 Woman Sandra Day O'Connor is appointed by President Reagan to the Supreme Court, making her its first woman justice.
1983 Black Guion Bluford, 1983, became the first black astronaut to travel in space;
1983 Woman Dr. Sally K. Ride becomes the first American woman to be sent into space.
1984 Black Woman Miss America: Vanessa Williams, 1984, representing New York. When controversial photos surfaced and Williams resigned,
1984 Woman Geraldine Ferraro is the first woman to run for vice-president on a major party ticket.
1985 Indigenous Woman Wilma Mankiller becomes the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
1986 Black Woman Oprah Winfrey became the first black woman television host in 1986, "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
1988 Black Woman Olympic medalist (Winter games): Debi Thomas, 1988, won the bronze in figure skating.
1989 Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Colin Powell, 1989-1993.
1989 Latias Woman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Florida, becomes the first Hispanic woman elected to congress. She serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.
1989 Woman In Boston, the Reverend Barbara C. Harris becomes the first woman consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.
1990 Black Governor (elected): L. Douglas Wilder, Virginia, 1990-1994.
1990 Black First Congressional Medal of Honor winner: Sgt. William H. Carney for bravery during the Civil War. He received his Congressional Medal of Honor in 1900.
1990 Black Woman Suzette Charles, the runner-up and also an African American, assumed the title. She represented New Jersey. Three additional African Americans have been
1990 Black Woman Miss Americas: Debbye Turner (1990),
1990 Latinas Woman Dr. Antonia Novello is sworn in as U.S. Surgeon General, becoming the first woman (and first Hispanic) to hold that job.
1991 Black Woman The first black woman to serve as a mayor of a major U.S. city was Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly, Washington, DC, 1991-1995.
1991 Black Clarence Thomas became the second African American to serve on the Court in 1991.
1991 Black Woman Miss America Marjorie Vincent (1991), and 1994
1991 Black Woman On January 2, Sharon Pratt Dixon is sworn in as mayor of Washington, DC, becoming the first black woman to serve as mayor of a major city.
1992 Black Woman Carol Mosely Braun became the first black woman Senator serving from 1992-1998 for the state of Illinois. (There have only been a total of five black senators in U.S. history: the remaining two are Blanche K. Bruce [1875-1881] and Barack Obama (2005- ).
1992 Black Woman Mae Jemison, 1992, became the first black female astronaut.
1993 Black Nobel Prize for Literature winner: Toni Morrison, 1993.
1993 Black Woman first black woman Poet Laureate: Rita Dove, 1993-1995.
1993 Woman Shiela Widnall becomes the first secretary of a branch of the U.S. military when she is appointed to head the Air Force.
1993 Woman Janet Reno becomes the first woman U.S. attorney general.
1993 Black Woman Toni Morrison becomes the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
1997 Black Golf champion: Tiger Woods, 1997, won the Masters golf tournament.
1997 Woman Madeleine Albright is sworn in as U.S. secretary of state. She is the first woman in this position as well as the highest-ranking woman in the United States government.
1998 Black Frederick D. Gregory, 1998, was the first African-American shuttle commander.
1998 Woman During Operation Desert Fox in Iraq, Lt. Kendra Williams, USN, becomes the first U.S. female combat pilot to bomb an enemy target.
1999 Woman Lt. Col. Eileen Collins is the first woman astronaut to command a space shuttle mission.
1999 Woman Nancy Ruth Mace is the first female cadet to graduate from the Citadel, the formerly all-male military school in South Carolina.
2000 first First Lady Hillary Clinton is elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming the first First Lady ever elected to national office.
2001 Black U.S. Secretary of State: Gen. Colin Powell, 2001-2004.
2001 Black Woman Ivy League president: Ruth Simmons, 2001, Brown University.
2001 Black Woman Oscar, Best Actor/Actress: 1963
2001 Black Woman Halle Berry, 2001, Monster's Ball.
2001 Black Billionaire: Robert Johnson, 2001, owner of Black Entertainment Television;
2002 Black Woman Olympic gold medalist (Winter games): Vonetta Flowers, 2002, bobsled.
2003 Black Woman Oprah Winfrey, 2003.
2005 Black Woman The first black female Secretary of State was Condoleezza Rice, 2005-.
2006 Black Woman Olympic gold medalist (Winter games; individual): Shani Davis, 2006, 1,000 m speedskating.
2006 Black Woman Effa Manley, co-owner of the Negro Leagues team Newark Eagles, becomes the first woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
2007 Black The only other (Wilder) elected black governor has been Deval Patrick, Massachusetts, 2007-
2007 Black Flight around the world: Barrington Irving, 2007, from Miami Gardens, Florida, flew a Columbia 400 plane named Inspiration around the world in 96 days, 150 hours (March 23-June 27).
2007 Woman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) becomes the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives.
2007 Woman Harvard University names Drew Gilpin Faust its first woman president in the school's 371-year history.
2007 Woman Dr. Peggy Whitson, an American astronaut, becomes the first woman to command the International Space Station.
2008 Black Major Party Nominee for President: Sen. Barack Obama, 2008. The Democratic Party selected him as its presidential nominee.
2008 Black U.S. President: Sen. Barack Obama, 2008. Obama defeated Sen. John McCain in the general election on Nov. 4, 2008.
2008 Woman Hillary Clinton wins the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, becoming the first woman in U.S. history to win a presidential primary contest.
2008 Woman Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, becomes the first woman to run for vice president on the Republican ticket.
2009 Black U.S. President: Sen. Barack Obama is sworn in as the first Black President of the United States of America
For visuals visit 200 Notables In Black History.
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