I knew the minute Vice President Kamala Harris won the Vice Presidency that I would dedicate my annual women’s post to the women who were FIRST. Interestingly enough as I find every year when I do this labor of love it’s full of women who trailblazed for the rest of us, at times, were cruelly treated. It is also a sad time because you have to realize that as far as we’ve come is as far as we’ve got to go.
I belong to many women’s groups and I see the power and the passion we have when we need to move the chains or break glass ceilings. I am also an avid reader so I see the struggles, misconceptions, and stereotypes we face as we chart our paths. Think about it, we are at a time when #MeToo is powerful but men are still trying to see what they can get away with.
We have a woman Vice President and yet, we still focus on what she’s wearing at the podium. We had the most qualified candidate running for the office of President and we elected a man whose mistreatment of women was documented and proudly spoke about from his own mouth. The country has confirmed the first black woman for Supreme Court Justice, and men who have less experience and qualifications are treating her like….a woman.
It is important that we take a moment to honor these women. It is also equally important to hope for a time when women who are FIRST won’t be a headline and just another part of OUR history, HERstory.
As Virginia Slim said, “We have a long way to go baby!”
If You Shut Us Out, We Create New Paths
Mary McLeod Bethune
Reprinted from 2020 Salute to Her Story
There have been so many women who paved the way, took on challenges, and inspire us with their sheer determination. But when you are one of 17 and the daughter of former slaves and you become one of the leading voices for the rights of Black America, you deserve the number one spot on my list.
I am going to assume that most of you have heard of her. If not, please start your journey on Wikipedia. For me and for the women on this list, we need to acknowledge her independence, fierceness of spirit, and intuitive ability to understand that education was key to the advancement of our race. Those character traits are what is in the DNA of today’s women entrepreneurs. She was all this and more. Remember that this was the time when society thought of us, BLACK and a woman, as less than.
When you read her quote, you understand that she was all about US and understood that the measure of a society, is how you treat US.
“The true worth of a race must be measured by the character of its womanhood. – Mary McLeod BethuneTweet
Sisterhood at its Finest
Reprinted from 2020 Salute to Her Story
One of the characteristics that I love about entrepreneurs is that if someone closes a door in our face, we build a better door. That is the story behind the African-American sororities. White sororities tried to stomp on our college experience by telling us “NO”. We were told that we couldn’t have the sisterhood that allowed us to share dreams, depend on each other and achieve upward mobility with a shared sense of self that the white girls had.
So guess what was created in 1908, by nine women on Howard’s University campus? These women created Alpha Kappa Alpha and the African-American sorority was born. Today there are four, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho. These sororities with over 200,000 women have dedicated their lives to the service of others and especially the upliftment of African-American woman.
If We Don’t Take Care of Ourselves, Who Will?
Identifying as a woman can sometimes be perilous. We are naturally assigned as the weaker sex. Next, the adjective weak becomes a synonym for stupidity, emotional and xxx. This has caused many of us to be undermined and preyed upon by men. This goes from legal action to illegal action. The women I highlight next changed the narrative of the weak woman. She used the courts to their advantage and did what they thought was best to create a better future for the next generation of women.
When I read about the woman who may have said, “If you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one.” I had to learn Patricia Maginnis advocated for abortion rights years before Roe v. Wade, a position that is mainstream today but radical during her time. Maginnis, who died at 93, passed out leaflets on how to induce abortion at home and compiled a list of abortion providers outside the U.S., even providing tips on how to travel to Mexico.
She was the first to take a passionate, public stance arguing that the medical stranglehold over women’s reproductive lives was corrosive. And the Society for Humane Abortion was arguably the very first American organization to advocate a pro-choice position that centered on the woman, instead of the legal dilemmas of the physician—specifically, her right to privacy and choice. Rejecting the finicky gatekeeping protocols, the committees and evaluations and red tape, Maginnis proposed that the only question anyone should ask prior to approving an abortion was a simple one: whether the woman wanted it.
If you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one.” Patricia MaginnisTweet
Elizabeth Blackwell was a British physician, notable as the FIRST woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, and the first woman on the Medical Register of the General Medical Council. She was inspired to practice medicine when a friend was dying and wondered out loud if her circumstances would be different if she had a female doctor.
She had to have a will of iron because of course she was discriminated against. She was ridiculed for the audacity of even thinking that she could use her brain and become a doctor. She took the comments, insults, and recriminations of her character and graduated FIRST in her class. Her list of firsts continued. She founded a medical college for women, added hygiene to the routine of doctors and opened clinics for women, especially poorer ones.
If society will not admit woman’s free development, then society must be remolded. – Elizabeth BlackwellTweet
Most of us know the story of Marie Curie. She is one of the few women mentioned in history books. She was the FIRST woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the FIRST person and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the ONLY person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. She gained her Doctor of Science degree in 1903, and following the tragic death of her husband in 1906, she took his place as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences, the FIRST time a woman had held this position.
During World War I she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals. The story goes she delivered the units herself. Her last FIRST, after her death, Curie was the first woman to be honored with interment in the Pantheon on her own merits.
We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing, at whatever costs, must be attained. – Madame CurieTweet
Flying High and Breaking Ceilings
Madame C.J. Walker
Reprinted from My Salute to Black HerStory: African American Women Entrepreneurs Who Inspire Me
Yes, I highlight her again. Why not? She was the FIRST self-made woman millionaire in the US. White, Black, Latino, Asian, she was the first and I love it and her fire.
I knew about Mrs. Graham since she, as the publisher, is so tied to The Washington Post and its companies. She was the publisher during Watergate and the Pentagon papers. This was at a time when you could trust the newspapers.
I did not know she was one of the first female publishers of an American newspaper and the FIRST-EVER female chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company. Her road to this position went through a father who hired her husband for the position. Her husband was a depressive and alcoholic who killed himself. That was when she stepped up to lead the paper and built it up both financially and prestigiously.
The image of me who likes or can deal with a fight is wrong. But once you have started down a path, then I think you have to move forward. You can’t give up. – Katharine GrahamTweet
Today, the youngest little girl gets on a plane with no fear. During Amelia Earhart’s time, even men thought you were nuts to fly. Blanche Scott was the FIRST women pilot, in 1910, when the plane that she was allowed to taxi mysteriously became airborne. In 1911, Harriet Quimby became the FIRST licensed woman pilot. Amelia was the FIRST female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Earhart set a number of aviation records in her short career. Her first record came in 1922 when she became the first woman to fly solo above 14,000 feet.
In 1932, Earhart became the first woman (and second person after Charles Lindbergh) to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She left Newfoundland, Canada, on May 20 in a red Lockheed Vega 5B and arrived a day later, landing in a cow field near Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
The woman who can create her own job is who will win fame and fortune. It is easier to start something than it is to finish it. – Amelia EarhartTweet
And the list of Women Firsts could continue!
I am already looking forward to the next HerStory. The 2022 journey took me to sports, politics, Europe, history, and Philly. It’s not surprising since women are everywhere. This journey also gives me the opportunity to learn more about some the iconic women, like Amelia Earhart and Madame Curie, and the overlooked, like Patricia Maginnis.
Each one has shaped the path of ALL women in their own special way. I have said it before, we are all incredible with our abilities to change our world for good. It is the common thread of all people but especially women. I hope you take the time to learn more about each and every one of these women and take your own journey through HerStory! Here are a few articles used to pull this post together:
- MLA – Michals, Debra. “Elizabeth Blackwell.” National Women’s History Museum. National Women’s History Museum, 2015. Date accessed.
- Chicago – Michals, Debra. “Elizabeth Blackwell.” National Women’s History Museum. 2015. www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/elizabeth-blackwell.
There are so many shining stars and inspirations to every American in whatever field of endeavor so thank you to all the women who did not make this list. Please use the comments or tweet me @MsMaishaBHoye to share the women who inspire you as the “FIRST”!