Women have long been confined with man-made limitations, yet there were brave women who refused to be bound. They broke the norms society placed on them despite what others thought. Many became women pioneers who changed the world.
The world’s first novelist was a woman. Murasaki Shikibu produced The Tale of Genji, written between 1000 and 1012 A.D. It was a long and complex novel that took nearly a decade to finish, and is priceless to Japanese literature.
Anna Komnene was the first woman historian. She was a Byzantine princess and wrote an account of the reign of her father, the emperor. She completed her work ‘Alexiad’, in 1148, a 15 volume series written in Greek.
In 1384, Katherine Lady Berkely was the first woman and lay person to found a school. She was the first person to offer free education to everyone.
The exquisite and first female European billionaire was Philippine Welser, in the 1500s. She was the secret wife of Archduke Ferdinand II, of Austria. He was supposed to marry a princess, instead he married a merchant’s daughter, so she had to be kept hidden. However, she lived in fabulous luxury. Philippine was granted the titles Baroness or Zinnenburg, Margravine of Burgau, Landgravine of Mellenburg and Countess of Oberhohenberg and Niedhohenbera.
Elena Cornaro Piscopia was a Venetian philosopher of noble birth. In 1678, she was the first woman to earn a Philosophy Doctorate degree. In 1732, Laura Bassi, an Italian physicist and scientist, was the first woman to teach in a European university.
Women’s Amazing Firsts in the 1800s
Sophie Blanchard, a professional balloonist, was the first woman to pilot a hot-air balloon in 1805. After her husband’s death, she continued ballooning.
In 1866, American Lucy Hobbs Taylor was the first woman to graduate from a school of dentistry. While Polish born, Stefania Wolicka-Arnd was the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Philosophy from Zurich University, in 1875.
Moving on to Women’s Amazing Firsts in 1900s
Women’s amazing firsts across the centuries included many in the 1900s despite the limitations that were placed on women. In 1903, Maggie L. Walker, the first African-American woman to charter a bank.
Some women were adventurous. French, Raymonde de Laroche, was the first woman to receive a pilot’s license. The year was 1910. In the same year, Anglo-Irish, Lilian Bland, a journalist, was the first woman to design, build and fly a plane.
1914, saw the first woman commissioned as a military pilot. Princess Eugenie Mikhailovna Shakhovskaya flew missions for the Czar.
Helena Rubinstein, a Polish-American businesswoman, art collector and philanthropist, founded the first cosmetic company in 1915.
More Amazing Women’s Firsts
Most people know the name Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia, in 1930. She set many long-distance records in the 1930s. In the Second World War she flew for the Air Transport Auxiliary. Amy disappeared in 1941 on a ferry flight.
Amelia Earhart, an American writer, was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. Like Amy, Amelia set many other records. She was one of the first of the aviators to promote commercial air travel. Amelia wrote several best-selling books about her flying experiences.
1935, saw Regina Jonas, Berlin-born, ordained as the first rabbi. Despite the Nazi persecution, Regina remained in Germany because of her elderly mother. In 1942, they interred her in a concentration camp, where she continued her work as a rabbi. In 1944, they transferred her to Auschwitz.
American Katherine Graham became the first woman publisher of a major United States newspaper, The Washington Post, in 1946. She presided over her family’s newspaper when it reported on the Watergate Scandal that brought down a president.
Women’s Amazing Firsts in the 1950s and 60s
In 1953, American pilot and businesswoman. Jacqueline Cochran was the first woman to break the sound barrier. She set many records and was a copartner as head of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Jacqueline pioneered women’s aviation and was one of the most prominent racing pilots of her generation.
1957 saw Jackie Moggridge, a Russian astronaut, become the first British airline captain. 1963, saw the first and youngest woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. Jackie is the only woman to fly a solo space mission, orbiting the earth 48 times in three days. Before becoming an astronaut, she was a textile worker and amateur skydiver.
In 1966, Indira Gandhi was the first and only female prime minister of India and the first female prime minister of a G20 nation. She served again between 1980 and 1984.
In 1969, Golda Meir became the first female prime minister of Israel and the first female prime minister in the Middle East.
1970s Women’s Amazing Firsts
The 1970s saw more amazing women firsts. In 1975, Junko Tabei, a Japanese mountaineer, author and teacher, was the first woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. She was also the first woman to ascend all Seven Summits, the highest peak on every continent.
American Janet Guthrie was the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Dayton 500 and Indianapolis 500 car races in 1977. Janet was an aerospace engineer before she became a professional race car driver.
In 1979, Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, became the first female prime minister of a G7 nation and the first female prime minister of a sovereign European country. She was the longest serving British prime minster of the 20th century.
Two More Women’s Amazing Firsts In Space
In 1984, Svetlana Savitskaya became the first women to do a spacewalk and was only the second woman in space. She was the first woman to fly to space twice.
1995 saw the American, Eileen Collins, as the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle and command a Space Shuttle mission. Before becoming an astronaut, Eileen was a flight instructor and a test pilot.
Women’s Amazing Firsts in the 2000s
In 2000, Swiss, Denise Wyss was the first woman to be ordained as a priest in the Old Catholic Church.
Oprah Winfrey was the first female African-American billionaire. In 2004, Catherine Pepinster became the first woman editor of a British newspaper, The Tablet. This was a first in the newspaper’s 175-year history.
Anousheh Ansari became the first female space tourist in 2006. Mary Barra became the first female CEO of a major car manufacturer in 2013. British-born Amy Hughes became the first person to set the record for the most marathons run on consecutive days. In 2014, she ran 53 marathons in 53 days.
Queen Elizabeth II became the longest currently serving head of state and the longest currently reigning monarch in 2016. Besides being the longest female head of state in world history.
2021 saw Kamala Harris become the first woman to be inaugurated as vice-president of the United States. She is the highest-ranking female in American history, and the first African-American and first Asian-American vice president.
In September 2021, Najla Bouden Romdhane, a Tunisian geologist, became the first female prime minister in the Arab world. That is an amazing world first and you wonder how long she may remain in that position, in a world where women are second-class citizens with little or no rights.
Male Run World
While women live in a male dominated world, and many have limitations, women’s voices are heard as they continue to create women’s amazing firsts across the centuries. Every woman has a unique voice in their sphere of influence. Many remain in the shadows of society, but every voice is important.
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