Introducing 10 Little-Known “First” Black Women
They Were First!
You know some – but certainly not all – of their names. Undoubtedly, you hear of Harriett Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Madam C.J. Walker during Black History Month each year. They made incredible contributions to society, but they are far from the only Back women to do so.
Any aspiring social media influencer will acknowledge that it is difficult to become famous. It is twice as difficult to do so as a Black woman in America, where we face racism compounded by sexism at every turn in the ongoing fight for equality. So much of history belongs to unsung heroines.
Consider the matriarch of a Black family. Keeper of home and hearth, retelling family legends, collecting generations’ worth of recipes, and passing down sacred traditions. They are the embodiment of the history of Black America and deserve immense recognition for their power and resilience.
Black women have also made history in just about every professional field there is. So many extraordinary trailblazers whose names should be up in lights have yet to receive due credit for their accomplishments. I’m taking a moment out of Black History Month to give 10 remarkable, yet relatively unknown, Black women a moment of glory. We should all know these names.
10 Names You Should Know
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler – The first African American woman in the U.S. to receive a Medical Degree. Her publication, A Book of Medical Discourses, is thought to be the first medical text written by an African American author.
Wangari Maathai – A Kenyan social, environmental, and political activist who founded the Green Belt Movement and was elected to parliament in 2002. In 2004, she became the first Black woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Irene Morgan Kirkaldy – Before Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, there was Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, the first Black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus. After her arrest, Irene’s case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. She won.
Eva Beatrice Dykes – The first Black woman in America to complete the requirements for a doctoral degree – and she did it at Radcliffe College, now a part of Harvard. (Due to the timing of her graduation ceremony, though, she was the third to be awarded a PhD.)
Lilla St. John – In 1953, Lilla was the first Black woman to pass the New York Stock Exchange licensing exam; she worked as an investment counselor with Oppenheimer & Company. (She previously hosted her own music television show on local TV!)
“Take a stand for what’s right. Raise a ruckus and make a change. You may not always be popular, but you’ll be part of something larger and bigger and greater than yourself. Besides, making history is extremely cool.” – Samuel L. Jackson
Maggie Lena Walker – Maggie achieved two impressive firsts. In 1903, she became the first African American woman to charter a bank AND the first African American woman to serve as the president of a bank.
Edmonia Lewis – Born around 1844 in upstate New York, Edmonia became the first professional sculptor of both African American and Native American ancestry. She was also the only Black female of the era recognized in the American art scene. Also known as ‘Wildfire’.
Carole Simpson – In 1975, she was hired by NBC News and became the first African American woman to anchor a major United States network newscast. She also anchored the weekend edition of World News Tonight from 1988 to 2003.
Alice Coachman – The first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal – in 1948 for the high jump. This led to another first in 1952: when Coca-Cola signed her as a spokesperson, she became the first African American woman to endorse an international product.
Janet Collins – In 1951, she debuted as the leading dancer in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Aïda. Janet went on to become the Met’s first Black prima ballerina.
How Will You Make History?
It’s true, a lot of ‘firsts’ are already spoken for, but there are untold wonders yet to discover. What are you doing today to impact Black history for generations to come? Whether we get the recognition we deserve or not (let’s talk about how to make sure that we do!) the future demands the best of us today.
I have set my intention to leave a mark on the world around me. My path is to coach others into achieving their most ambitious goals and dreams. If you’re daring enough to blaze new trails, I can help light that fire. I can’t wait to see what firsts will be attributed to you. Call me so we can start making history!
Lisa L. Baker is a professional life coach, career strategist, and keynote speaker. Lisa is the founder of Ascentim – a Maryland-based coaching practice that utilizes a unique G.R.O.W. process to help clients gain clarity, realize new possibilities, overcome obstacles, and win at life. Lisa shows high-performing professionals how to Level Up and Live the Life of Their Dreams.