Timeline


These items were culled from the Black Women in America encyclopedia. This list is neither definitive nor exhaustive. It is intended to be snapshot of African American women’s historical events.

1619    On August 20th three African women arrive with 17 African men in Jamestown, VA. They are perhaps the first Africans imported for labor.

1624    In Jamestown, VA Isabel, wife of Antoney gives birth to William the first Black child born in English North America.

1662    Virginia law establishes that a child born in the colony will be held bond or free according to the condition of their mother.

1746    Lucy Terry (Prince) composes the poem “Bars Fight,” the earliest known poem by a black person in America.

1765    Jenny Slew files suit in Massachusetts colony and is awarded her freedom.

1767    Phillis Wheatley’s first poem, “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin,” is published by the Newport Mercury.

1809    African Female Benevolence Society, Newport Rhode Island is founded.

1821    Two hundred working-class women in Philadelphia band together to for the Daughters of Africa mutual benefit society.

1827    African Dorcas Association is founded by black women in New York City to supply clothing to children in the African Free Schools.

1828    The Coloured Female Roman Catholic Beneficial Society of Washington, DC is founded.

1829    The Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first Roman Catholic religious community of black women in the United States is established in Baltimore, MD with Elizabeth Lange, originally from Santo Domingo as mother superior.

1832    Maria Stewart becomes the first native-born U.S. woman to begin a public speaking career when she lectures before a “promiscuous” (male and female) audience in Boston’s Franklin Hall, under the sponsorship of the African-American Society.

1836    Jarena Lee publishes The Life and Religious Experiences of Jarena Lee, a Colored Lady, the first autobiography by an American black woman.

1843    Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree van Wagener), a black woman who escaped from slavery, begins speaking for abolitionism.

1844    The first petition for the African Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference to license women to preach is defeated.

1845    Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s first book of poems, Forest Leaves, is published.

1848    Benjamin Roberts, files the first school integration suit on behalf of his daughter Sarah Roberts. Sarah was denied admission to a neighborhood school because of race.  In 1849 the Massachusetts state supreme court upheld the legality of segregation justifying it with the first recorded use of the “separate but equal” doctrine.

1849    Harriet Tubman escapes enslavement and returns 20 times to liberate others.

1850    Lucy Sessions earns a literary degree from Oberlin College, becoming the first black woman in the United States to receive a college degree.

1851    During her speech in Akron, Ohio, women’s rights convention, Sojourner Truth challenges racial and gender hierarchies.  In 1858, while speaking in Silver Lake, Indiana , Truth is forced to bare her breasts to prove her sexual identity.

1853    Mary Ann Shadd (Cary) becomes editor and financier of the Provincial Freeman, published in Windsor, Canada, she is the first black woman editor of a newspaper in North America.

1854    Elizabeth Jennings sues the Third Avenue Railroad Company, winning $225 in damages and a court ruling that “colored persons, if sober, well-behaved and free from disease” could ride the New York City horse cars without segregation.

1854    Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield sings for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. She is the first black performers to perform before royalty.

1857    Elizabeth Thorn Scott-Flood opens what is probably the first colored school in Alameda County, California.

1859    In Philadelphia, Rebecca Cox Jackson founds the first black Shaker community.

1859    Harriet E. Wilson publishes Our Nig: or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a Two-Story White House North. Showing That Slavery’s Shadows Fall Even There, an autobiographical novel about racism in the North before the Civil War. She is the first black American to publish a novel in English in the United States.

1862    Susan King Taylor, at fourteen, becomes the first African American army nurse in the United States.

1864    Rebecca Lee (Crumpler) becomes the first African American woman to graduate from a U.S. college with a medical degree and the first and only black woman to obtain the Doctress of Medicine degree from New England Female Medical College in Boston, MA.

1868    Elizabeth Keckley publishes her autobiography, Behind the Scenes; or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.

1869    Fanny Jackson (Coppin) is named principal of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, becoming the first black woman to head an institution for higher learning in the United States.

1872    Following her graduation from Howard University Law School, Charlotte E. Ray, using the initials C.E. to avoid discrimination against women, is admitted to the District of Columbia bar, thus becoming the first black woman lawyer in the United States.

1876    Harriet Purvis is the first African American woman to be elected vice president of the National Woman Suffrage Association.

1876    Mary Edmonia Lewis is the first black woman to gain recognition as a sculptress. She is the only black artist to exhibit in Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition.

1879    Graduating from the School of Nursing, New England Hospital for Woman and Children in Boston, Mary Eliza Mahoney becomes the first African American in the U.S. to receive a diploma in nursing.

1885    Sara E. Goode is the first black woman to receive a U.S. patent, for her “Folding Cabinet Bed.”

1886    Louise “Lulu” Fleming becomes the first black woman to be commissioned for career missionary service by the Women’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Society of the West.

1888    Sarah E. Gorham becomes the first woman missionary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church appointed to a foreign field.

1889    Maria Louise Baldwin becomes the first African American female principal in Massachusetts and the Northeast, supervising white faculty and a predominantly white student body at the Agassiz Grammar School in Cambridge.

1890    The Locust Street Settlement House is established in Hampton, Virginia, by Janie Porter Barrett; it s one of the first African American settlement houses.

1890    Ida Gray is the first African American woman to receive the Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from University of Michigan.

1891    Minnie M. Geddings Cox becomes the first black postmistress of the United States.

1894    Julia A. J. Foote becomes the first female ordained deacon in the AME Zion Church.

1896    National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs organized. Mary Church Terrell served as the first president.

1900    Otelia Cromwell becomes the first black woman to graduate from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

1902    Charlotte Hawkins Brown founds the Palmer Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina.

1903    The Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank opens in Richmond, Virginia, with Maggie Lena Walker a president, the first African American woman to direct a bank and probably the first U.S. woman to do so other than through inheritance from her husband.

1904    Mary McLeod Bethune establishes the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School, which becomes Bethune-Cookman College.

1907    Meta Vaux Warrick is the first black woman artist to receive a federal commission.

1908    Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the first black Greek letter organization for woman, is founded at Howard University.

1909    Nannie Helen Burroughs is founding president of the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, DC.

1913    Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the second black Greek letter organization for women, is founded at Howard University.

1916    Frances Elliott Davis is the first African American nurse to enroll officially in the Red Cross nursing service.

1916    Rachel, a play by Angelina Grimke, is the first known play in the twentieth century written by a black American and presented onstage by black actors.

1917    Lucy Diggs Slow becomes the first black woman athletic champion, winning the women’s singles title at the first national American Tennis Association championships in Baltimore, Maryland.

1919    Georgia Hill Robinson becomes the first African American policewoman in the United States, after passing the civil service exam in Los Angeles.

1920    The Universal African Black Cross Nurses, a female auxiliary of the UNIA, is organized.

1920    Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, the third black Greek-letter organization for women, is founded at Howard University.

1921    The first black women to earn Ph.D. degrees in the United States are Georgiana R. Simpson, German, University of Chicago; Sadie Tanner Mossell (Alexander), economics, University of Pennsylvania; and Eva Dykes, English philology, Radcliffe College.

1922    Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, is the fourth black Greek letter organization for women; it is the first black sorority established on a predominantly white campus, Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.

1922    Mary B. Talbert becomes the first woman to receive the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Spingarn Medal.

1922    Louise Evans (Briggs-Hall) is the first black woman admitted to the prestigious United Scenic Artists Association for costume, scenic, and lighting designers.

1922    Bessie Coleman, the first licensed African American aviator, gives her first exhibition on Long Island.

1923    Virginia Proctor Powell (Florence) becomes the first African American woman to receive professional training in librarianship.

1924    Mary Montgomery Booze becomes the first black woman elected to the Republican National Committee.

1925    Florence Mills is the first black woman to headline a Broadway show.

1926    Dr. May Edward Chinn becomes the first African American woman to graduate from the University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College.

1926    Violette N. Anderson becomes the first black woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

1930    Nella Larsen is the first black woman to win a creative writing award from the Guggenheim Foundation.

1931    Jane Matilda Bolin is the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School.

1931    Katherine Dunham founds the Negro Dance Group in Chicago.

1932    Dorothy Porter is the first African American woman to earn an advanced degree in library science (MLS), from Columbia University.

1934    Ruth Winifred Howard becomes the first African American woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in psychology from University of Minnesota.

1935    Jessie Jarue Mark is the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in botany (Iowa State University).

1936    Flemmie P. Kittrell is the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in nutrition (Cornell University).

1937    Anna Johnson Julian becomes the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.

1937    Zelda Jackson “Jackie” Ormes becomes the first nationally syndicated black woman cartoonist.

1938    Miriam Stubbs Thomas together with sixteen other black women forms a club to sponsor cultural events for their children. Jack and Jill of America is born.

1939    Mary T. Washington becomes the first African American female certified public accountant after graduating from Chicago’s Northwestern University.

1940    Roger Arliner Young is the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in zoology (University of Pennsylvania).

1941    Mary Lucinda Carwell Dawson founds the National Negro Opera Company in Pittsburgh.

1941    Ruth Lloyd is the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in anatomy (Western Reserve University).

1941    Merze Tate is the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in government and international relations from Harvard University.

1942    Charity Adams (Earley) is the first black woman to become a commissioned officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

1942    Margurite Thomas is the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in geology (Catholic University).

1943    Anne Cooke receives a Ph.D. in theater from Yale University.

1946    The Links is founded in Philadelphia by Margaret Roselle Hawkins and Sarah Strickland Scott.

1946    Camilla Williams is the first black woman to perform with the New York City Opera.

1947    Marie M. Daly becomes the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.

1948    Alice Coachman becomes the first black woman Olympic champion when she wins the gold medal in the high jump and sets a new Olympic record.

1949    Marjorie Lee Brown (University of Michigan) and Evelyn Boyd Granville (Yale University) becomes the first African American women to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics.

1949    Eleanora Figaro becomes the first black woman to receive the papal honor Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.

1950    Gwendolyn Brooks is the first black writer to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize, winning poetry award for Annie Allen, (1949).

1950    Attorney Edith Sampson is the first African American to be appointed as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.

1950    Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens becomes the first African American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons.

1951    Arie Taylor becomes the first black person to be a Women’s Air Force classroom instructor.

1952   Charlotta Bass becomes the first black woman to be nominated for vice president of the United States by a major political party, when she runs on the Progressive Party ticket.

1954    Doris Evan McGinty earns a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Oxford. (England).

1955    Clotilde Dent Bowen becomes the U.S. Army’s  first black female physician to attain the rank of colonel.

1957    The Famous Ward Singers (Clara Ward, Marian Williams, and Henrietta Waddy) are the first gospel group to sing at the Newport Jazz Festival.

1960    Wilma Rudolph becomes the first U.S. woman ever to win three Olympic gold medals and earns the title “World’s Fastest Woman.”

1961    Margaret Burroughs, with her husband, Charles establishes the Ebony Museum of African American History in Chicago.  This institution becomes the DuSable Museum of African American History.

1962    Edith S. Sampson becomes the first black woman judge in the United States.

1963    Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley are murdered when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL is bombed.

1964    Annie Devine, Fannie Lou Hamer, Anna Mae King, Unita Blackwell and others represent the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party in Atlantic City, NJ.

1964    Constance Baker Motley becomes the first black woman elected to the New York State Senate.

1964    The Supremes have their first number-one hit with “Where Did Our Love Go.”

1965    Patricia Roberts Harris becomes the first black woman to head a U.S. embassy when she is appointed ambassador to Luxembourg.

1966    Barbara Charline Jordan becomes the first black woman in the Texas Senate.

1967    The founding convention of the National Welfare Rights Organization is held, with Johnnie Tillmon as chair, Etta Horn as first vice chair, Beulah Saunders as second vice chair, Edith Doering as secretary, and Marian Kidd as treasurer.

1968    Naomi Sims is the first black woman to appear on the cover of the Ladies Homes Journal.

1969    Eighteen year old Ruth White is the youngest woman and first African American to win a national fencing championship; she holds four titles.

1970    Cheryl Brown, Miss Iowa, becomes the first black woman to compete in the Miss America pageant.

1970    The Coalition of 100 Black Women is founded in New York.

1970    Toni Cade (Bambara) edits and publishes the pioneering collection of essays The Black Woman: An Anthology.

1971    Dr. Jane Cook Wright becomes the first woman president of the New York Cancer Society.

1972    Alma Thomas is the first African American woman to have an individual show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York Cit.

1972    Sociologist Joyce Ladner publishes Tomorrow’s Tomorrow.

1973    Marian Wright Edelman founds the Children’s Defense Fund to lobby for health, welfare and justice for children and their families.

1973    Cicely Tyson wins two Emmy awards for her performance in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman.

1975    Gloria Randle Scott becomes the first black woman to serve as national president of the Girls Scouts, USA.

1976    Elected mayor of Mayersville, Unita Blackwell becomes the first African American mayor in Mississippi.

1977    Azie Taylor Morton becomes the first and only black person to serve as U.S. treasurer.

1978    The Afro-American Woman: Struggles and Images, the first anthology of black women’s history, is edited by Sharon Harley and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn.

1979    The National Archives for Black Women’s History and the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial Museum opened in Washington, DC.

1979    The Association of Black Women Historians is founded.

1979    Jenny Patrick is the first black woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

1979    The Association of Black Women Historians is founded. The ABWH sought to create a positive and affirming space for black women historians. The isolation from white women scholars and indifference to the issues of women from black male scholars impelled black women historians to craft a community of sisterhood.

1980    Mary Frances Berry is appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President Jimmy Carter.

1981    The National Black Women’s Health Project is founded under the leadership of Bylle Y. Avery.

1982    Alice Walker publishes The Color Purple, which wins the Pulitzer Prize.

1982    All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave, a pioneering collection of essays in black women’s studies, is edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott and Barbara Smith.

1983    Christine Darden is the first black woman in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering (George Washington University).

1984    Leontine T.C. Kelly ,the first black woman bishop of a major religious denomination in the United States, is elected head of the United Methodist Church in the San Francisco area.

1984    Octavia E. Butler wins two of science fiction’s most prestigious awards, the Hugo and the Nebula awards.

1985    Sherian Grace Cadoria is the first black woman promoted to brigadier general in the regular U.S. Army.

1986    The Oprah Winfrey Show goes national, making Oprah Winfrey the first African American woman to host a nationally syndicated weekday talk show.

1987    Mae Jemison joins NASA. She is the first black woman astronaut.

1987    Johnetta Cole becomes president of Spelman College, the first black president of that institution.

1988    Barbara Clementine Harris of Boston is the first woman to become a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

1988    Lenora Fulani of the New Alliance Party is the first woman and first African American presidential candidate to get on the ballot in all fifty states.

1989    Condoleezza Rice becomes the first African American appointed as director of Soviet and East European Affairs on the National Security Council.

1990    Sister Cora Billings is installed as a pastor in Richmond, VA, becoming the first black nun to head a parish in the U.S.

1990    Sharon Pratt Dixon (Kelly) is elected mayor of Washington, DC, becoming the first woman to be elected.

1991    Lynn Whitfield becomes the first African American woman awarded an Emmy for outstanding actress in a miniseries.

1992    Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois becomes the first African American woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate; she is also the first African American senator from the Democratic Party.

1993    Hazel Rollins O’Leary is sworn in as the secretary of energy, becoming the first woman and African American to hold this position.

1993    Dr. Joycelyn Elders becomes the first African American woman to serve as surgeon general.

1994    Beverly Harvard of Atlanta, GA, becomes the first African American woman to reach the rank of chief of police in a major U.S. city.

1995    Chelsi Pearl Smith of Texas becomes the first African American to win the Miss Universe pageant.

1997    Alexis Herman becomes the first African American to head the Labor Department.

1999    Radio One, founded by Cathy Liggins Hughes, becomes the first company headed by a black woman to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

2000    Venus Williams wins the singles title at Wimbledon, becoming the first since Althea Gibson in 1957.

2000    Selected by Al Gore, Donna Brazille becomes the first African American woman to lead a national presidential campaign.

2000    Vashti Murphy McKenzie becomes the first female bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

2001    Ruth J. Simmons is the eighteenth president of Brown University and is the first black woman to lead an Ivy League institution.

2002    Halle Berry becomes the first African American woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress, for her performance in Monster’s Ball.

2003    Oprah Winfrey makes the Forbes magazine’s “billionaires list”. She is the first black woman to make the list.

2004    Laila Ali earns the IWBF light heavyweight title.

2008    Michelle Obama becomes the first African American woman to be the U.S. First
Lady.

2008    Professors Peggy Brooks-Bertram and Barbara Seals Nevergold published a collection of letters in Go Tell Michelle: African American Women Write Back to the New First Lady in 2008. The publication serves as a documentary witness to the emotional roller-coaster experienced by black women during the campaign, election and subsequent presidency.

 

 

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