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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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