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Famous Firsts by American Women, 1587–1900


Here is a timeline about famous firsts by American women. This information includes such notable figures as the first published author in 1650 (Anne Bradstreet), to Elizabeth Blackwell receiving her medical degree in 1849, to astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson, who became the commander of the International Space Station in 2007. We also include the 2008 elections during which Senator Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire presidential primary, the first woman to do so, and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin became the first female vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket.

1587–1900 | 1901–present

Virginia Dare is the first person born in America to English parents (Roanoke Island, Virginia).


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.


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.


Test your skills with the Women's Firsts quiz.

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.


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.


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.)


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.


Anne Parrish establishes, in Philadelphia, the House of Industry, the first charitable organization for women in America.


Mary Kies becomes the first woman to receive a patent, for a method of weaving straw with silk.

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.


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.


Antoinette Blackwell becomes the first American woman to be ordained a minister in a recognized denomination (Congregational).


Rebecca Lee Crumpler becomes the first black woman to receive an M.D. degree. She graduated from the New England Female Medical College.


Lucy Hobbs becomes the first woman to graduate from dental school, the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.


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.


Victoria Claflin Woodhull becomes the first woman presidential candidate in the United States when she is nominated by the National Radical Reformers.


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.


Belva Ann Lockwood becomes the first woman admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mary Baker Eddy establishes the Church of Christ, Scientist, becoming the first woman to found a major religion, Christian Science.


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.


Susanna Medora Salter becomes the first woman elected mayor of an American town, in Argonia, Kansas.


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).


H.H.A. Beach's "Gaelic Symphony" is the first symphony by a woman performed in the United States, and possibly the world.


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Did you know?
In the 2010 census, the average family size was 3.14.