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