10 “Firsts” by Women

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A Brief History

On May 16, 1975, Junko Tabei of Japan became the first woman to successfully scale Mt. Everest.  Tabei had founded the “Ladies Climbing Club: Japan” in 1969, a time of empowerment for women during the “Women’s Liberation” movement.  Here we list 10 “firsts” for women, accomplishments that may seem commonplace today, but ones that were groundbreaking at the time.  Feel free to mention your favorite “firsts” by women.   Note: These “firsts” are some that we find interesting, and the order does not imply an order of importance.

Digging Deeper

10. First to Climb Mt. Everest, Junko Tabei, 1975.

As mentioned above, this lady at age 36 managed what no person had done until 1953.  An accomplished climber, Junko has also scaled the Matterhorn and Mt. Fuji.  Although conquering Everest may seem routine today, with over 5000 climbers reaching the top, 223 people have died in the effort and the climb is still potentially deadly despite modern technology.  In a bit of a twist, Tabei had earned her Bachelor’s degree from Showa Women’s University in English Literature.  In 1992 Junko Tabei became the first woman to have climbed the “Seven Summits” (the tallest mountain on each continent).

9.  First in Space, Valentina Tereshkova, 1963. 

This Russian woman was the first of 59 women (so far) that have traveled in space.  This space pioneer is quite the heroine in Russia, having been politically active in the old Soviet Union and in the post communist Russia.  She was honored to be the flag carrier at the 2014 Winter Olympics.  Valentina was only the 12th person in space, and was the first civilian to make a space flight.  The first American female in space was Sally Ride in 1983, tied for the 120th person in space.  Ride died of pancreatic cancer in 2012 at only age 61.  Note: Ralph Cramden offering his wife, Alice, a “trip to the moon” on The Honeymooners does not qualify.

8.  First Mother of Octuplets (that survived at least a week), Nadya Suleman, 2009. 

Already the mother of 6 other children at age 24 when she gave live birth to 8 babies, thrusting her in the media spotlight as “Octomom” Suleman generated massive controversy by having her pregnancy aided by a fertility doctor through in vitro fertilization.  Rather than famous, this woman is infamous, especially once the public discovered she was a single, unemployed mother on welfare, with the incredible medical bills being borne by tax dollars and donations.  Dr. Kamrava, the fertility doctor that implanted 12 embryos into Suleman was stripped of his medical license in 2011, much to the approval of the public!  In 2012 Suleman filed for bankruptcy (surprise!) and in 2014 was convicted of welfare fraud.  The 8 babies are still alive.  In 2012 she starred in a one woman pornographic film calledOctomom Home Alone.

7.  First Full-time NFL Referee, Sarah Thomas, 2015. 

A former college basketball player and 17 year veteran of refereeing football at various levels, Thomas has been hired as the first full-time female NFL referee.  An Academic All-American in Basketball at the University of Mobile, Thomas got into football officiating when she attended a meeting for people interested in becoming a football referee with her brother.

6.  First Self-Made African-American Billionaire, Oprah Winfrey, 2004. 

Believed to be (by Forbes international) the only African-American billionaire in North America, Oprah is the first black female to become a self-made billionaire, owing most of her fortune to her media empire.  In fact, Forbes says Oprah was the only ethnic African billionaire in the world from 2004 to 2006.  Often listed as one of the most powerful or influential women in the world, Oprah is also well known as a philanthropist, having given away at least $400 million to educational causes.  She is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

5.  First Iditarod Winner, Libby Riddles, 1985. 

Riddles won the grueling 1000 mile sled dog race in Alaska, a 9 to 15 day feat of endurance braved by only the toughest of “mushers.”  Riddle had entered twice before, and decided to breed her own sled dogs, which apparently was the ticket as she then won the 1985 race.  Another woman, Susan Butcher was the second female winner, and has won a total of 4 times in the Alaska cold that can reach a wind chill of -100 degrees F!

4.  First to Win Nobel Prize/Win 2 Nobel Prizes, Marie (Sklodowska) Curie,  1903.

This Polish woman that moved to France not only was the first woman to earn a Nobel Prize but also was the first person to win a second Nobel Prize (1911).  She even managed to win those two Nobel Prizes in two different categories (physics and chemistry).  She remains one of History’s greatest scientists.

3.  First Medal of Honor Winner, Mary Edwards Walker, 1865. 

A Civil War surgeon, Walker was once captured by Confederate forces and sent to a prisoner of war camp, later released in a prisoner exchange.  Edwards was also the first female US Army surgeon, and was actively feminist, prohibitionist, and abolitionist.  She died in 1919, having seen her name stripped from the Medal of Honor Roll in 1917.  Her name was added back to the list in 1977.  She remains one of only 8 persons that earned the Medal of Honor while a civilian.

2.  First Blue Angels Pilot, Katie Higgins, 2015.

The Navy’s acrobatic aerial demonstration team, the Blue Angels, announced the addition of the first female pilot to join the elite team, Captain Katie Higgins, US Marine Corps.  Katie is a graduate of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis.  Marine Captain Corrie Mays also joins Katie and the Blue Angels as a pilot this year.  Note:  There has actually been a woman member of the Blue Angels back in 2010, but not as a pilot or performer.  Both women will fly a C-130 Hercules in the Blue Angels’ show.

1.  First U.S. President, ????, 2016? 

Although far from a sure bet, for the first time in United States History a woman, Hillary Clinton, is a frontrunner for election to the presidency.  It seems the United States electorate is perfectly willing at this time to elect a woman president, and certainly the day is coming sooner than later.  We have already had women run on major party tickets as vice-presidential candidate (Democrat Geraldine Ferraro and Republican Sarah Palin) so having a woman head the ticket is the next logical step.  Other women mentioned as possible contestants in the 2016 race include Elizabeth Warren (Senator) and Carly Fiorina (businesswoman).  Question for students (and subscribers): Who do you think the first woman president will be?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Min, Janice.  Nadya Suleman (Octo Mom) l Rihanna l Angelina Jolie & Jennifer Aniston – March 2, 2009 US Weekly Magazine.  US Weekly LLC, 2009.

Quinn, Susan.  Marie Curie: A Life.  Plunkett Lake Press, 2011.

Tereshkova, Valentina.  Valentina Tereshkova, The First Lady of Space: In Her Own Words.  spacebusiness.com, 2015.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.