Throughout history, female pioneers have changed our world for the better. They’ve fought for equal rights, demanded equal treatment and boldly charted new territory in politics, business, music, movies, sports, literature, science, and beyond.
Below are a few of the memorable firsts accomplished by some of these iconic and inspiring women. While not all these ladies wore Levi’s® (after all, we didn’t invent the first jeans for women until 1934), we celebrate their strength, confidence and ability to tackle any challenge.
1. Mary Kies – First woman to receive a U.S. patent (1809)
The Connecticut native improved hat-making by inventing a process for weaving straw with silk or thread.
2. Stefania Wolicka-Arnd – First woman awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy degree in the modern era (1875)
The Polish historian received her degree from the University of Zurich. Her doctoral dissertation was titled “Griechische Frauengestalten, 1 Tail” (Greek Figures of Women, Part 1).
3. Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky – First woman to bicycle around the world (1895)
Though she had never before ridden a bicycle, the mother from Boston pedaled the globe, making stops in New York City, Paris, Egypt, Jerusalem, Colombo and Singapore.
4. Charlotte Cooper – First woman to win an Olympic gold medal (1900)
The English tennis player won the tennis singles event, becoming the first female Olympic champion. She also won a gold medal in the mixed doubles competition.
5. Raymonde de Laroche – First woman to receive a pilot’s licence (1910)
Born Elisa Raymonde Deroche, the French pilot was issued license #36 of the International Aeronautics Federation by the Aero-Club of France.
6. Edith Wharton – First woman to win a the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (1921)
She was awarded the prize for her novel The Age of Innocence, which explores New York society in the 1870s.
7. Amelia Earhart – First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean (1928)
The aviation pioneer and author mysteriously disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
8. Regina Jonas – First woman ordained as a rabbi (1935)
A native of Berlin, she matriculated at the Hochscheule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in 1872. Her final thesis dealt with the topic of women in rabbinic office.
9. Sirimavo Bandaranaike – First woman head of government (1960)
The stateswoman served as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka after winning the Ceylon general election in 1960. She left office in 1965, but later served two additional terms as prime minister – 1970-77 and 1994-2000.
10. Valentina Tereshkova – First woman in space (1963)
The former textile worker-turned Russian cosmonaut completed three days in space aboard the Vostok 6.
11. Katharine Graham – First woman Fortune 500 CEO (1972)
The Post played a key role in unveiling the Watergate conspiracy under Graham’s leadership as CEO of the Washington Post company,
12. Junko Tabei – First woman to climb Mount Everest (1975)
A seasoned mountain climber and ecological activist, Tabei has also climbed Mount Fuji and the Matterhorn. Her goal is to climb the highest peak in every country in the world.
13. Margaret Thatcher – First woman Prime Minister of Great Britain (1979)
Nicknamed the “Iron Lady” for her uncompromising style, Thatcher was the longest serving British Prime Minister in the 20th century.
14. Aretha Franklin – First woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
She was anointed the “Queen of Soul” in 1968 when legendary deejay Pervis Spann placed a crown atop her head during a performance at Chicago’s Regal Theater.
15. Julie Krone – First woman to win a Triple Crown race (1993)
The American jockey won the Belmont Stakes riding Colonial Affair. In 2003, she also was the first woman to win a Breeders’ Cup race.
16. Madeleine Albright – First woman secretary of state (1997)
Nominated by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Czechoslovakian-born politician was unanimously confirmed by a Senate vote of 99-0.
17. Katherine Bigelow – First woman to win an Academy Award as best director (2010)
Her film, The Hurt Locker, follows the story of a three-man bomb disposal team during the Iraq War.
18. Janet Yellen – First woman to chair the Federal Reserve Board (2014)
The economist has twice received the Haas School of Business award for outstanding teaching.
Like this story?
Sign up for the Unzipped newsletter to get the best of the Unzipped blog — company news and views, employee profiles, innovation and sustainability stories, behind-the-scenes and Archives highlights — sent straight to your inbox weekly.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons