Here at Future Female Leaders, we strive to empower young women and girls to follow their hearts and dreams, and not to let anything stop them from reaching those dreams. Whatever your goals may entail, being the first in a field predominantly led by men can be daunting and challenging. Luckily, we have a number of empowering and inspiring women to look to for guidance and support. Here are a number of women who were first in their fields. Some you may have heard of, some you probably haven’t. They were strong, uplifting, and serve as role models for us all to follow.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Stanton was largely influential in the fight for women’s rights, and helped to organize the first women’s rights convention in 1848. She fought for greater rights for women, specifically within a marriage. Throughout the 1860s, she advocated for the right for women to be able to leave unhappy and abusive marriages. She was viewed as an outlier for the time in an era where divorce was often illegal. A somewhat unknown fact about Stanton is that she ran for Congress in 1866 for the Eighth Congressional District as an Independent candidate. While she only received about two dozen votes, her candidacy was an enormous step for women in politics and advocacy.
While Hillary Clinton may have been the first woman to run for President on a major party ticket, she certainly was not the first woman to reach for the office. That title belongs to Victoria Woodhull, who ran on the Equal Rights Party in 1872, at a time when she could not even vote for herself. Her running mate was Frederick Douglass, and her name appeared on the ballot in a number of states. She ended up spending Election Day in jail over charges on sending obscene materials through the mail, alleging a popular preacher at the time was an adulterer. While she did not receive any electoral votes, her candidacy for the Presidency was an important step for women everywhere.
In 1900, Frances Warren became the first female delegate to the Republican National Convention from Wyoming. She is the first woman from either major party to be selected as a delegate. The first woman from the Democratic Party also attended the DNC the same year, but only after someone else could not attend, and she served as the alternate. Warren hails from a family dedicated to equal rights for women, and advocated for full female participation in government.
Elected in 1916, Rankin became the first woman ever to be elected to Congress. She was a Republican from Montana, and served from 1917 to 1919, and then again from 1941 to 1942. Rankin was a pacifist and ran as a candidate to advocate for women’s suffrage. She is also the only lawmaker at the time to vote against U.S. involvement in World War I or World War II. After her time in politics, Rankin spent the rest of her life advocating for social welfare programs. She advocated for greater rights for women, and to banish child labor. Finally, the year of her death in 1973, she contemplated a third run for Congress to oppose the Vietnam War.
Margaret Chase Smith
In 1940, Smith became Maine’s first woman elected to Congress. She won the seat in a special election that she won in a landslide. She was a Republican that served until 1947, where she announced her candidacy for the Senate. Smith won with 71% of the vote, making her the first woman to serve in both the House and the Senate. She denounced McCarthyism in a famous speech titled “Declaration of Conscious”. In 1964, she announced her candidacy for the Presidency. At the Republican Convention of that year, she became the first woman to have her name put in for the nomination by a major party. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989 by President George H. W. Bush.
Sandra Day O’Connor
Appointed by President Reagan and serving from 1981 until 2006, Justice O’Connor is the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. She was believed to be a moderate conservative and voted alongside the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. She was often known to be a swing vote, and often voted against the majority of the bench when the situation called for it. After her retirement from the bench, she advocated for education of America’s youth and pushed for wider education on government and civics.
Orr is the first female Republican Governor in the U.S., and was elected in Nebraska in 1986. In order to secure the governorship, Orr won 81 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, and won an 8-way primary race. The Nebraska race that year featured two women vying for the governorship, making Orr the first woman to defeat a woman from a major party in order to win. She focused on tax reform and received support from President Reagan.