We will celebrate February by honoring the journeys and accomplishments of African American women who have made history.
It is no exaggeration to say that women, especially African-American women, have had to put in an exceptional effort to get where we are today professionally. (And even then, we still don’t occupy the same level of power.)
Authors Kevin Stainback and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey found in their research for the book, Documenting Desegregation, that segregation has increased between black and white women since 1970. They state in an article written for The Washington Post that it has eliminated progress made in the late 1960s.
In recognition of Black History Month, here are 26 significant moments for African-American women in the workforce that remind us how far we’ve come. Though we still have a way to go until equality is reached based on race or gender, it’s worth looking back at our progress.
First known African-American woman to publish a book:
Phillis Wheatley, who wrote Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773
First college instructor:
Sarah Jane Woodson Early, Wilberforce College, 1858
First to receive a degree:
Mary Jane Patterson, Oberlin College in 1862
First to enlist in the U.S. Army:
Cathay Williams, in 1866
First to hold a patent:
Sarah E. Goode, for the cabinet bed, in 1885
First to found and become president of a bank:
Maggie L. Walker, with St. Luke Penny Savings Bank (now the Consolidated Bank & Trust Company), in 1903
First to earn a Ph.D. in the U.S:
Sadie Tanner Mossell, who earned her degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1921
First to head a federal agency:
Mary McLeod Bethune, head of the National Youth Administration in 1938
First to win a Pulitzer:
Gwendolyn Brooks, for her book of poetry, Annie Allen, in 1949
First ambassador of the United States:
Patrician Roberts Harris, ambassador to Luxembourg in 1965, who was later the first African-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban development in 1977
First elected to U.S. House of Representatives:
Shirley Chisholm, a Democrat from New York, in 1968
First graduate of Harvard Business School:
Lillian Lincoln, in 1969
First mayor of a U.S. city:
Doris A. Davis, mayor of Compton, Calif., in 1973
First with a signature to appear on U.S. currency:
Azie Taylor Morton, the 36th treasurer of the United States, in 1977
First elected as to a U.S. judgeship, and first appointed to a state Supreme Court:
Juanita Kidd Stout, who achieved both milestones in 1988
Dr. Mae Jemison on the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992
First elected to U.S. Senate:
Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat from Illinois, in 1992
First to win the Nobel Prize for Literature:
Toni Morrison in 1993, who also is the first African-American to be awarded the prize
First president of an Ivy League university:
Ruth J. Simmons of Brown University, appointed in 2001
First National Security Advisor:
Condoleezza Rice, in 2001
Sheila Johnson, who earned the title in 2001 as owner of the Washington Mystics
First combat pilot in the U.S. Military Corp.:
Captain Vernice Armour, in 2002
First appointed Secretary of State:
Condoleezza Rice, in 2005
First combat pilot in the Air Force:
Major Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell, in 2008
First first lady of the United States:
Michelle Obama, 2009
First CEO of a Fortune 500 company:
Ursula Burns, of Xerox, in 2009
Know of someone we missed? Tell us in a comment.
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