Famous Female Firsts: Aretha Franklin and 57 Trailblazing Women Who Made History
Celebrate the history-making women who have blazed the trail toward equality.
MerNeith and Sobekneferu, first female Pharaohs
PHAS/Universal Images Group/REX/Shutterstock
Around 2950 BC, MerNeith, the daughter of one pharaoh, wife of another, and mother of another, is believed to have ruled Egypt in her own right for some period of time. The first female pharaoh whose reign was confirmed by scientific evidence was Sobekneferu, who ruled Egypt between 1806 and 1802 BC, following the death of her brother, Amenemhat IV. These are just two impressive women in history—here are 20 confidence-boosting from seriously awesome women in history.
Mary Tudor, first female to rule England
PHAS/Universal Images Group/REX/Shutterstock
Though Elizabeth I gets all the acclaim, it was her half-sister Mary Tudor, the only adult child of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who was crowned the first Queen of England in 1553. This was after the death of Henry in 1547 and a short reign by Henry’s ill-fated teenage son, Edward (who was Henry’s child with his third wife, Jane Seymour). Known historically as “Bloody Mary” for her sometimes violent political acts, she was succeeded in death by Elizabeth in 1558.
Juliana Morell, first woman to graduate from a doctoral program
Born in Barcelona in 1594, Juliana Morell was so brilliant that by the age of four, her teachers informed her father they had nothing left to teach her. Home-schooled after that, Juliana had written and defended theses on ethics and morality by the tender age of 12. In 1608, she became the first female ever to earn a university doctoral degree. Women like Julia have a way with words, which is why you need to know these 14 quotes from female authors that every woman should read.
Francesca Caccini, first female opera composer
Best Shot Factory/REX/Shutterstock
Italian Francesca Caccini was 38 years old when La Liberazione di Ruggiero, the opera she composed, was performed for the first time in Florence. The year was 1625, and Caccini was not only an accomplished composer, but also a lute player, poet, and music teacher. She wrote or co-wrote 15 more opera works before her death in the 1640s.
Queen Anne, the first female ruler of Great Britain
In 1707, Queen Anne was crowned ruler of England. That very same year, the kingdoms of England and Scotland merged to form Great Britain, making Anne the first ruler of Great Britain, period. You should never call the current queen of England by her given name.
Lydia Taft, first woman to vote legally in America
In 1756, a century before woman’s suffrage became a movement, Lydia Chapin Taft became the first female to vote in America. Lydia was the widow of an influential landowner in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, whose recent death was thwarting the town’s plan to help finance the ongoing French and Indian war. So to get stuff done, Lydia was asked to vote in her dead husband’s place. Guess word of Lydia’s voting never reached President Grover Cleveland, who famously said that “sensible” women don’t vote. He really said that, but here are some famous quotes that were totally wrong.
Sacagawea, first (and only) woman to accompany Lewis and Clark
In 1805, Sacagawea, a member of the Shoshone tribe, became the first and only woman to accompany the Lewis and Clark expedition, exploring the West and seeking a route to the Pacific. Barely a teenager, and also a brand new mother, Sacagawea kept her baby strapped to her back as she acted as a Shoshone interpreter, brokered deals for supplies, and served as a skilled navigator. The fact that she was there may have been the difference between life and death for many on the expedition.
Ann Franklin, first female newspaper editor in America
You’ve heard of Ben Franklin, but how about his sister-in-law, Ann Smith Franklin, who was married to Ben’s brother, James? After James died in 1837, leaving Ann a widow with five kids, she took over as publisher of the Mercury, a Newport, Rhode Island newspaper, which Ann had helped James to launch. She later printed an almanac series and went on to be inducted into the University of Rhode Island’s Journalism Hall of Fame.
Sophie Blanchard, first woman to pilot a hot air balloon
Universal History Archive/REX/Shutterstock
Sophie Blanchard learned her aeronautical skills from her husband, who died of a heart attack beside Sophie while she was piloting a balloon. “Tiny” and “nervous,” according to Smithsonian, Sophie nevertheless found flight to be a “sensation incomparable.” Unfortunately, Sophie also became the first woman to die in an aviation accident, when her balloon caught fire and crashed to the ground in 1819.
Ada Lovelace, first female computer programmer
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/REX/Shutterstock
Ada Lovelace was not only the first female computer programmer, but also the first computer programmer overall. A brilliant mathematician born in England, she wrote the world’s first machine algorithm for an early computing machine called the “Analytical Engine.” It calculated Bernoulli numbers, thanks to Lovelace’s data input. It’s not shocking since there is a proven advantage that the female brain has over the male brain.