The Women Who Did It First

On this International Women’s Day, here’s a look at some of history’s greatest (but overlooked) trailblazers.

International Women's Day

Anne Bradstreet

The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America is a volume of poetry published in 1650, one of the first notable works about life in the American colonies by a resident of the American colonies. It was written by Anne Bradstreet, making her the first published female American writer.

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia

For centuries, academics were a “boys club,” but Venetian philosopher Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia was one of the first women to receive a formal education. Studying at the University of Padua, in 1678 she became the first woman in history to receive a doctorate.

Mary Kies

First American woman to hold a patent: In 1809, Mary Kies got one for a novel method of weaving straw with silk.

Victoria Woodhull

Who was the first woman to run for president? Not Hillary Clinton. In 1872, suffragist Victoria Woodhull announced her candidacy for the Equal Rights Party. (She was also one of the first women to get rich off the stock market—Woodhull and her sister opened one of the first female-run brokerages.)

Valentina Tereshkova

Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova orbited the Earth in 1963. She was the fifth astronaut from the Soviet Union to go into orbit, and the twelfth human being to leave the planet overall.

Frances Perkins

In 1933, labor activist Frances Perkins was appointed Secretary of Labor by President Franklin Roosevelt. She’s the first female cabinet member in American history and one of the longest-serving federal department heads ever, serving for the entirety of FDR’s 12 years in office.

Janet Guthrie

Most professional auto racers choose either the NASCAR circuit or the IndyCar circuit. In the ‘70s, Janet Guthrie was one of the few racers who did both. She’s the first woman to compete in both NASCAR’s Daytona 500 as well as the Indy 500. At Daytona in 1977, she finished in 12th place (her car blew a couple of cylinders with 10 laps left) and she ran in three straight Indy 500 races in the late ‘70s, finishing in ninth place in 1978.

Tina Sjogren

In 2002, Tina Sjogren of Sweden became the first of only two women to ever ski by themselves, without a supply run, all the way to the South Pole…and then immediately do the same thing with the North Pole.

Cassandra De Peco

In 2017, Cassandra De Peco, working for the International Institute, set out of a peacekeeping mission to visit every country on Earth. She did it—De Peco became the first woman to travel to every sovereign nation on the planet, and it took her only 18 months, which is faster than the men who had done it before her.