A Brief History
On September 15, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee to become the first female Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America (U.S.). Today, we list five spectacular firsts accomplished by women. By the way, in this list, the alma mater of each of these accomplished women is mentioned (the author, for example, is a Cleveland State University graduate).
5. Dr. Rachel Maddow, First Openly Lesbian Rhodes Scholar, 1995 / First Openly Lesbian US News Anchor, 2008
Educated at Stanford University, Maddow earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford and became the first openly homosexual recipient of such a scholarship. After earning her Doctor of Philosophy degree at Oxford in 2001, she embarked on a radio career until the opportunity to work as the first openly homosexual prime time television news anchor presented itself when MSNBC offered her a job. The admittedly liberal newscaster is often disparaged by conservatives, but laughs off the insults. Her undergraduate study took place at Stanford.
4. Dr. Angela Dorothea Merkel, First Female Chancellor of Germany, 2005.
Still serving as Chancellor of Germany as of August 2020, “Angie,” as she is affectionately called by her countrymen, is the first woman to hold that office and is arguably the most powerful woman in the world. Before delving into politics, this brilliant woman studied physics at Leipzig University, eventually earned a doctorate, and worked as a researcher.
3. Margaret Hilda Thatcher, First Female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1979.
The first woman to hold the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the “Iron Lady” was a tough politician and inspirational leader. In fact, Thatcher was in office longer than any other British prime minister during the 20th century (1979-1990) and saw the UK through the war with Argentina. Like Merkel, she also studied science; her degree being in chemistry which she received from the University of Oxford. She proudly noted that she was the first British prime minister with a science degree, ever! Thatcher also studied for the bar, and became a barrister (or lawyer in American talk) in 1953. She died in 2013.
2. Sandra Day O’Connor, First Female Supreme Court Justice, 1981.
Appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, Justice O’Connor also retired under a Republican president when she left the bench in 2006. Since O’Connor’s groundbreaking appointment, 3 other women have been appointed to the Supreme Court and are still serving (Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan). O’Connor received her law degree from Stanford University.
1. Nancy Pelosi, First Female Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, 2007.
With her appointment as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Pelosi, a graduate of Trinity Washington University, became the highest-ranking female in American political history and second in line for the presidency (after the vice president) should the president become disabled or die. Pelosi served as Speaker from 2007 to 2011, and in January of 2019 once again was elected by her peers in the House of Representatives as Speaker of the House, currently serving in that role (as of August 2020).
The current First Lady of the U.S., Melania Trump, who was born in Slovenia and studied architecture and design at the University of Ljubljana, is the first First Lady of the U.S. to be a naturalized citizen and the first whose native language is not English. She is also only the second Catholic first lady of the U.S. and the second first lady born outside the country (not counting those born in what became U.S. territory before the country existed). She is known for starting the Be Best public awareness campaign, which focuses on well-being for youth and advocates against cyberbullying and drug use.
In addition to the famous females listed above, many other positions of great responsibility have been held by other women throughout history. While we sometimes may seem America-centric, seeing as how we are Americans as are most of our readers, we do also appreciate the incredible contributions of women and girls from other countries beyond the U.S. So, our apologies to the many great females not mentioned here in the interest of limiting our list to only five, including Golda Meir (Israel’s first and only woman to hold the office of Prime Minister), Indira Ghandi (the first and, to date, only female Prime Minister of India), and so many others that could be listed. Many of these esteemed ladies appear in or will appear in other articles on our site. Question for students (and subscribers): Who else do you think belongs on a list of fabulous firsts for females? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information about famous women, please see some of our many articles about notable women, including articles about women of science, politics, sports, aviation, Black women, Female Outlaws, “Badass” Women, Beautiful Women that Died Young, articles about individual women, various women’s rights subjects and so forth. Our list of “10 Political Firsts for Women” includes four non-American women. You may also find the following book helpful for learning more about the subject matter of this article:
Kunin, Madeleine. Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Sandra Day O’Connor being sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice by Chief Justice Warren Burger, while her husband John O’Connor looks on, 09/25/1981, is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 1696015. This image was taken from Flickr‘s The Commons. The uploading organization may have various reasons for determining that no known copyright restrictions exist, such as:
- The copyright is in the public domain because it has expired;
- The copyright was injected into the public domain for other reasons, such as failure to adhere to required formalities or conditions;
- The institution owns the copyright but is not interested in exercising control; or
- The institution has legal rights sufficient to authorize others to use the work without restrictions.
More information can be found at https://flickr.com/commons/usage/. This image was originally posted to Flickr by The U.S. National Archives at https://www.flickr.com/photos/35740357@N03/5553386728. It was reviewed on 07:15, 31 March 2011 (UTC) by FlickreviewR, who found it to be licensed under the terms of the No known copyright restrictions, which is compatible with the Commons.
You can also watch a video version of this article on YouTube: