Women’s Milestones in U.S. Government


A Time Line of Women in Government

In 1987, Congress named the month of March, National Women’s History Month.  This month we feature a celebration of Women’s History in the United States.  The timeline that follows includes memorable firsts for women in their quest to become part of the United States Government.

1766 – Mary Katherine Goddard and her widowed mother become publishers of the Providence Gazette newspaper and the annual West’s Almanack, making her the first woman publisher in America. In 1775, Goddard became the first woman postmaster in the country (in Baltimore), and in 1777 she became the first printer to offer copies of the Declaration of Independence that included the signers’ names. In 1789 Goddard opened a Baltimore bookstore, probably the first woman in America to do so.

1809 – Mary Kies becomes the first woman to receive a patent, for a method of weaving straw with silk.

1869 – Arabella Mansfield is granted admission to practice law in Iowa, making her the first woman lawyer.

1872 – Victoria Claflin Woodhull becomes the first woman presidential candidate in the United States when she is nominated by the National Radical Reformers.

1879 – Belva Ann Lockwood becomes the first woman admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

1885 – Sarah E. Goode becomes the first African-American woman to receive a patent, for a bed that folded up into a cabinet. Goode, who owned a furniture store in Chicago, intended the bed to be used in apartments.

1887 – Susanna Medora Salter becomes the first woman elected mayor of an American town, in Argonia, Kansas.

1916 – Jeannette Rankin, of Montana, is the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

1922 – Rebecca Felton, of Georgia, is appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill a temporary vacancy. The first woman senator, she serves for only two days.

1925 – Nellie Tayloe Ross becomes the first woman to serve as governor of a state, in Wyoming. In the fall of 1924 she was elected to succeed her deceased husband, William Bradford Ross. (Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson is inaugurated governor of Texas days later.)

1932 – Hattie Wyatt Caraway, of Arkansas, becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.

1933 – Frances Perkins is appointed secretary of labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making her the first woman member of a presidential cabinet.

1953 – Jerrie Cobb is the first woman in the U.S. to undergo astronaut testing. NASA, however, cancels the women’s program in 1963. It is not until 1983 that an American woman gets sent into space.

1960 – Oveta Culp Hobby becomes the first woman to serve as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. She is also the first director of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and the first woman to receive the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal.

1964 – Margaret Chase Smith, of Maine, becomes the first woman nominated for president of the United States by a major political party, at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco.

1965 – Patsy Takemoto Mink, of Hawaii, is the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress. She served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 24 years.

1969 – Shirley Chisholm, of New York, becomes the first African-American woman in Congress and the first female black U.S. Representative. Her motto is, “Unbought and unbossed.” She served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years.

1972 – Juanita Kreps becomes the first woman director of the New York Stock Exchange. She later becomes the first woman appointed Secretary of Commerce.

1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor is appointed by President Reagan to the Supreme Court, making her its first woman justice.

1983 – Dr. Sally K. Ride becomes the first American woman to be sent into space.

1989 – Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Florida, becomes the first Hispanic woman elected to congress. She serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.

1990 – Dr. Antonia Novello is sworn in as U.S. Surgeon General, becoming the first woman (and first Hispanic) to hold that job.

1991 – On January 2, Sharon Pratt Dixon is sworn in as mayor of Washington, DC, becoming the first black woman to serve as mayor of a major city.

1992 – Carol Moseley-Braun, of Illinois, becomes the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Mae Jemison becomes the first black female astronaut.

1993 – Shiela Widnall becomes the first secretary of a branch of the U.S. military when she is appointed to head the Air Force.
Janet Reno becomes the first woman U.S. attorney general.

1997 – Madeleine Albright is sworn in as U.S. secretary of state. She is the first woman in this position as well as the highest-ranking woman in the United States government.

2005 – Condoleezza Rice becomes the first African-American female Secretary of State.

Information has been compiled from Famous Firsts by American Women by Ann-Marie Imbornoni, David Johnson, and Elissa Haney.



The National Women’s History Project  The website contains the history on this annual celebration, promotional materials, and events that related to this year’s theme.

American Women is a website maintained by the Library of Congress.  This gateway is dedicated to resources that pertain to American Women and their history.  The Library of Congress is a repository for manuscripts, images, documents, diaries, letters, and campaign materials that relate to Women’s History.

From the National Archives, Women is a research resource and a bibliography for all items related to Women’s History.  The website contains links to image databases, biographies, bibliographies, and more.

National Park Service & Women’s History Month is a online exhibit from the National Parks Service.  The volume focuses on women is the past, present, and the future.  By placing women in the past first, this series of articles seeks to show women’s capabilities to change America.

Sponsored by the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, Women Watch is a comprehensive resource on the status of women in United Nations countries today.

The Women at NASA provides information about females and their careers within NASA.  Links to information about the space programs, events, and new stories are also available.



Census Statistics relating to Women are available by subject matter.  Statistics include population profiles, educational attainment, business and industry, and other demographics.

The Department of Labor supports the The Women’s Bureau.  This agency collects statistics relating to women and their jobs.  Quick statistics as well as in-depth searchable information is available.

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) collects statistical information on women, minorities, and people with disabilities in the sciences and engineering.  Undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate information can be searched as well as some employment statistics specifically relating to NSF fields.

The Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics Fast Stats (NCHS) provides health related information and statistics particularly relating to women.  The NCHS also supplies citizens with general health statistics and information.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, maintained by the Department of Justice, provides statistical information about offenders, crime rates, types of crime, and the justice system.  Included is information specifically focused on women.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has organized the womenshealth.gov which provides statistical information about women’s health and women’s health issues.

FedStats is a statistical resource maintained by the U.S. Government.  Information from over 70 government agencies has been compiled and is now accessible in one website.


Related Sources

The Statistical Abstract of the United States was published by the U.S. Census.  It provides general statistical information on the national and state levels, including some information specific to women.

The Online Women’s Business Center has been provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration.  Information for women about starting and maintaining a small business is available along with information about business opportunities.
Center for Women Veterans is a website maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  It provides information on programs, health care, advisory committees, and VA benefits.