US women win the first Winter Olympics hockey gold medal

On February 17, 1998, in Nagano, Japan, the United States defeats Canada, 3-1, to win the gold medal in the first women’s hockey tournament held at the Winter Olympics.  “After these Olympics, I hope the sport grows times a million,” American forward Katie King says. “Anyone who watched the (gold medal) game, they’re going to want to watch more women’s hockey.”

Said American forward Tricia Dunn: “I’m speechless and amazed that we played a near-perfect game.”

The win was especially sweet for the United States, which had lost four times to Canada in the Women’s World Hockey Championship since 1990.

After taking a 1-0 lead, the Americans dominated. Canada made the score 2-1 with a third-period goal, but the United States scored a late goal to cement the win.

Immediately after the U.S. victory, gloves and sticks sailed into the air. Karyn Bye, an alternate captain for the United States, wrapped herself in a flag as most of the rest of her teammates mobbed each other on the ice. 

“I’ve coached a lot of teams at different levels, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more moved by the efforts and dedication of the players on my team,” U.S. coach Ben Smith said.

The United States followed its 1998 gold medal with a silver medal at the Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. The American women earned a medal in every Olympics since Nagano, taking their second gold medal in 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.

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Albright becomes first female US figure skater to win world title

On February 15, 1953, Tenley Albright, a 17-year-old from Boston, becomes the first American female to win the world figure skating championship. All seven judges at the event at an outdoor rink in Davos, Switzerland give her a first-place vote. Albright, who was stricken as a young child, calls the performance her “best.”

“Dressed in a light cherry-colored costume with spangles that glinted in the sun, Tenley whirled and spun around the rink, executing with disarming ease all the difficult skating manevuers in the book and some more of her own,” the Associated Press reported.

READ MORE: 8 Remarkable Female Figure Skaters at Winter Olympics

Albright performed a double axel, double loop, double rittbereer and double solchow before a sellout crowd of 4,000. “Such combinations never have been seen performed before by a woman,” a Swiss skating expert said.

After Albright’s performance, her father, a surgeon, squashed thoughts of her becoming a professional skater. “Tenley has to go to college and is too young to become a professional star,” he said. 

Said Albright: “I love skating for skating. I want to continue as an amateur.”

Three years later, at the Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, Tenley became America’s first female skating gold medalist, overcoming an injury to her right ankle suffered less than two weeks earlier. “I was in great pain, but I figured for four minutes I could put up with anything,” she said afterward.

After the Olympics, Albright retired and attended Harvard Medical School—one of five women in a class of 135. She became a noted surgeon.

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All-female team competes in America’s Cup sailing for first time

On January 13, 1995, America3, an all-female sailing team, wins the first race of the America’s Cup defender trials, easily beating Team Dennis Conner by a little more than a minute. The team is the sport’s first all-women team to compete in the 144-year history of the America’s Cup, the world’s oldest continually contested sporting trophy. The Cup represents the pinnacle of international sailing yacht competition.

America3 (pronounced “America Cubed”) was the brainchild of Bill Koch, a millionaire businessman and skipper of the 1992 America’s Cup-winning vessel. Koch wanted to pique American interest in the sport and field a competitive sailing team. So, he assembled a 23-member team that included female sailors, rowers and professional weightlifters to take on Conner’s team in the defender trials.

The navigator aboard Koch’s boat was 26-year racing veteran Ann Nelson, who had won more than 50 championships as part of the U.S. Women’s World Sailing team. The silver medalist in the 1984 Olympic board sailing exhibition didn’t shy from confrontation with Conner, who reportedly made crude comments to Nelson and her teammates the summer before the race.

The pre-race controversy made for great theater leading up to the race, which was expected to be an easy victory for Conner’s newer boat and more experienced team. However, Conner’s team made a critical prestart gaffe by not allowing America3 right of way, resulting in his boat having to take a penalty turn. That swung the race.

“In essence, the race was over at that point,” Conner said. “America3 had a 600- to 700-foot lead and did a good job with it through the rest of the race.”

However, America3 team lost the defender trials to Conner’s team. 

At the end of the trials, Koch was proud of what his team had accomplished, saying, “We had a top team that can compete with anyone… Next time an all-women’s team sails in the top of the competition, they can go all the way. That’s what this team has meant to the sport.”

No all-female team has won the America’s Cup.

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Goaltender Manon Rheaume becomes first woman to play in pro hockey game

In Atlanta on December 13, 1992, Manon Rheaume becomes the first woman to play in a regular-season professional hockey game. In the Atlanta Knights’ 4-1 loss to Salt Lake City, Rheaume enters at the start of the second period with the score tied at 1 in the International Hockey League contest.  In nearly six minutes, Rheaume stops four shots and allows one goal before she is replaced by the Knights’ starter.

“She did it,” wrote columnist Ailene Voisin of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Damn, she did it.”

“We gave her a cigar with a note afterword,” Atlanta coach Gene Ubriaco told reporters afterward. “Now, you’re really one of the guys.”

Although Rheaume acknowledged the “ice is broken” after the minor league game, she was modest about her performance. “I know the people want to see me, and I understand, but they must understand me. I am not ready. Not yet,” Rheaume told reporters.

On September 23, 1993, Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game, with the Tampa Bay Lightning in a preseason game against the St. Louis Blues. She didn’t make the Lightning’s regular-season team. But she caught on with the Atlanta Knights.

Rheaume played one more game for Atlanta that season before moving on to the Eastern Collegiate Hockey League, where she played a combined eight games for the Knoxville Cherokees and Nashville Knights. She also had success with the Canadian women’s national team before retiring in 1997. Rheaume briefly came back during the 2008-09 season.

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Hillary Clinton accepts Democratic nomination for president, becoming first woman to lead a major U.S. political party

95 years after women were first granted the right to vote, on July 28, 2016, former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton makes history by accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, becoming the first woman to lead a major U.S. political party. 

The Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia formally nominated Clinton two days earlier, with South Dakota casting 15 votes to put Clinton over the threshold of 2,382 required delegates.

In her acceptance speech on the night of July 28, Clinton acknowledged the historic nature of her nomination. 

“Tonight, we’ve reached a milestone in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president,” she said. “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too—because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”

Clinton, who ran in the general against Donald J. Trump, won the popular vote but lost the election in the electoral college. Trump served one term and made history himself, becoming the first U.S. president to be impeached twice. 

READ MORE: Women’s History Milestones: A Timeline

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Gloria Steinem publishes part one of “A Bunny’s Tale” in SHOW magazine

After enduring a brief but grueling stint as a Bunny in Manhattan’s Playboy Club, feminist writer Gloria Steinem published the first half of her landmark account, “A Bunny’s Tale,” in SHOW magazine on May 1, 1963. Steinem’s undercover reporting increased her profile and stripped back the glamorous facade of Hugh Hefner‘s empire to reveal a world of misogyny and exploitation.

Steinem, a freelance writer, was commissioned by SHOW to apply for a job at the Playboy Club under a fake name and document her experience. Ads for jobs as a server at the club, whose female employees were all known as Bunnies, portrayed the work as something akin to paid participation in a party straight out of Playboy Magazine. As Steinem quickly learned, the truth was far uglier. Bunnies were paid less than advertised and subject to a system of demerits, which could be given for offenses such as refusing to go out with a customer in a rude way (even though Bunnies were strictly forbidden to go out with most customers) or allowing the cotton tale on the back of their uniforms to get dirty. 

Steinem’s account was replete with examples of the toll the work took on Bunnies: uniforms so tight one could barely move, swollen and blistering feet from hours of working in high heels, and near-constant harassment by the drunk businessmen who made up most of the clientele. After one night when roughly 2,000 people came through the club’s doors, Steinem estimated there had been maybe ten who “looked at us not as objects … but as if we might be human beings.”

“A Bunny’s Tale” was one of the first feminist attacks on Playboy and the “sexually liberated” but male-centric lifestyle it embodied. Hefner tried to take it in stride, stating that Playboy was on the side of the women’s liberation movement and asserting that applications to work at the Playboy Club had increased thanks to Steinem’s article. He also ordered the club to stop giving new Bunnies mandatory blood tests and gynecological exams, practices Steinem had questioned in her article. 

Though it helped an early-career Steinem establish her credentials as a reporter and a feminist, she regretted the piece for years after it ran, dismayed by a slew of offers to take on sexualized undercover roles and haunted by photos of herself in the Bunny costume, which had been taken during her brief time as an employee. Over time, however, she has said that she is glad she wrote the piece, an exposé that laid bare the struggle of women who were more or less objectified for a living.

READ MORE: Inside Gloria Steinem’s Month as an Undercover Playboy Bunny

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19th Amendment ratified thanks to one vote

Year
1920
Month Day
August 18

A dramatic battle in the Tennessee House of Representatives ends with the state ratifying the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution on August 18, 1920. After decades of struggle and protest by suffragettes across the country, the decisive vote is cast by a 24-year-old representative who reputedly changed his vote after receiving a note from his mother.

America’s suffrage movement was founded in the mid 19th century by women who had become politically active through their work in the abolitionist and temperance movements. In July 1848, 200 woman suffragists, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, met in Seneca Falls, New York, to discuss women’s rights. After approving measures asserting the right of women to educational and employment opportunities, they passed a resolution that declared “it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” 

READ MORE: A Timeline of the Fight for All Women’s Right to Vote

For proclaiming a woman’s right to vote, the Seneca Falls Convention was subjected to public ridicule, and some backers of women’s rights withdrew their support. However, the resolution marked the beginning of the woman suffrage movement in America.

When Carrie Chapman Catt took over from Anthony as President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1900, she prioritized the push for a constitutional amendment to give women the vote. At the outset of World War I, NAWSA urged women to prove their worth to the war effort while the National Women’s Party, led by Lucy Burns and Alice Paul, engaged in civil disobedience, directly targeting President Woodrow Wilson with protests outside the White House. 

Finally, facing growing pressure on multiple fronts, Wilson called a special session of congress in May of 1919 and personally appealed for women’s suffrage. Having voted down the amendment six times, Congress finally approved it, sending it to the states for ratification.

READ MORE: How Suffragists Raced to Secure Women’s Right to Vote Ahead of the 1920 Election

By March of 1920, just one more state was needed to ratify the 19th Amendment in order for it to become law. The Tennessee General Assembly took up the question in August, and suffragists and anti-suffragists bore down on Nashville. The State Senate voted convincingly to ratify, but the House failed to do so twice, by two votes of 48 to 48. State Rep. Harry T. Burn, a 24-year-old from McMinn County, was one of the “nay” votes. Reportedly, he had intended to vote for ratification but had been persuaded not to by telegrams from his constituents and members of his party. 

LISTEN ON APPLE PODCASTS: Suffrage Isn’t Simple

Just as a third vote was set to begin, Burn received a letter from his mother, Febb Ensminger Burn, that read, in part, “Hurrah and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt … I’ve been watching to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet … Don’t forget to be a good boy.” 

On the third vote, Burn changed his mind. Thanks to his single vote, the House approved the amendment, Tennessee ratified it, and the Constitution was changed to guarantee women the right to vote.

On August 26, the amendment was formally adopted into the Constitution by proclamation of Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby.

Despite the ratification of the amendment and the decades-long contributions of Black women to achieve suffrage, poll taxes, local laws and other restrictions continued to block women—and men—of color from voting. It would take more than 40 years for all women to achieve voting equality. 

READ MORE: How American Women’s Suffrage Came Down to One Man’s Vote

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Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to receive a medical degree


Year
1849
Month Day
January 23

At a graduation ceremony at a church in Geneva, New York on January 23, 1849, Geneva Medical College bestows a medical degree upon Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to receive one. Despite the near-uniform opposition of her fellow students and medical professionals, Blackwell pursued her calling with an iron will and dedicated her life to treating the sick and furthering the cause of women in medicine.

Blackwell’s family was remarkable by any standard. Her father was a staunch abolitionist and both her brother and his wife were active in the women’s suffrage movement. Another sister-in-law was the first female minister to be ordained in a mainstream Protestant denomination, and Elizabeth’s younger sister Emily also studied medicine. A gifted student, Elizabeth felt compelled to become a doctor after a conversation with a dying friend, who told her that her ordeal had been that much worse because her physicians were all men. Elizabeth’s family approved of her ambition, but the rest of society still found the idea of female doctors laughable. It was, quite literally, a joke even to the men who accepted her to Geneva Medical College—the question of whether or not to accept a woman was put up to a vote of the students, who voted in favor as a practical joke. Nevertheless, Blackwell received her acceptance letter and started school in 1847.

Blackwell’s fellow students shunned her. So did the townspeople of Geneva. Her professors complained that teaching her was an inconvenience, and one even tried to stop her from attending a lesson on anatomy, fearing it would be immodest for her to be present. When Blackwell graduated, the dean of her school congratulated her in his speech but went as far as adding a note to the program stating that he hoped no more women would attend his school. The sentiment was echoed by the rest of the American medical community—a letter to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal described her graduation as a “farce.” Again, Blackwell succeeded in the face of indignities, not only graduating but publishing her thesis in the Buffalo Medical Journal.

Blackwell set up a clinic for the poor of New York City, where she met what she described as “a blank wall of social and professional antagonism,” but remained determined to treat as many patients as possible. She founded a hospital, the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, in 1857 with the help of her sister and another protégé, both women who had followed in her footsteps and received medical degrees. She and her sister trained nurses during the Civil War and opened their own medical college in 1868. She eventually moved to London, becoming a professor of gynecology at the School of Medicine for Women. 

Faced with sexist discrimination at every turn, Blackwell not only received her degree and practiced medicine but contributed greatly to the education of the first generation of female doctors in America. The profession remained notoriously male for many, many years, but the progress that started with Blackwell continues. In 2017, for the first time ever, a majority of medical students in the United States were women.

READ MORE: Elizabeth Blackwell: Her Life and Legacy

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Jeannette Rankin, first woman elected to U.S. Congress, assumes office

Year
1917
Month Day
April 02

Jeannette Pickering Rankin, the first woman ever elected to Congress, takes her seat in the U.S. Capitol as a representative from Montana.

Born on a ranch near Missoula, Montana Territory, in 1880, Rankin was a social worker in the states of Montana and Washington before joining the women’s suffrage movement in 1910. Working with various suffrage groups, she campaigned for the women’s vote on a national level and in 1914 was instrumental in the passage of suffrage legislation in Montana. Two years later, she successfully ran for Congress in Montana on a progressive Republican platform calling for total women’s suffrage, legislation protecting children, and U.S. neutrality in the European war. Following her election as a representative, Rankin’s entrance into Congress was delayed for a month as congressmen discussed whether a woman should be admitted into the House of Representatives.

Finally, on April 2, 1917, she was introduced in Congress as its first female member. The same day, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress and urged a declaration of war against Germany. On April 4, the Senate voted for war by a wide majority, and on April 6 the vote went to the House. Citing public opinion in Montana and her own pacifist beliefs, Jeannette Rankin was one of only 50 representatives who voted against the American declaration of war. For the remainder of her first term in Congress, she sponsored legislation to aid women and children, and advocated the passage of a federal suffrage amendment.

In 1918, Rankin unsuccessfully ran for a Senate seat, and in 1919 she left Congress to become an important figure in a number of suffrage and pacifist organizations. In 1940, with the U.S. entrance into another world war imminent, she was again elected as a pacifist representative from Montana and, after assuming office, argued vehemently against President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s war preparations. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the next day, at Roosevelt’s urging, Congress passed a formal declaration of war against Japan. Representative Rankin cast the sole dissenting vote. This action created a furor and Rankin declined to seek reelection. After leaving office in 1943, Rankin continued to be an important spokesperson for pacifism and social reform. In 1967, she organized the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, an organization that staged a number of highly publicized protests against the Vietnam War. She died in 1973 at the age of 93.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Jeannette Rankin 

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Nancy Pelosi becomes first female Speaker of the House


Updated:
Original:
Year
2007
Month Day
January 04

On January 4, 2007, John Boehner handed the speaker of the House gavel over to Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic Representative from California. With the passing of the gavel, she became the first woman to hold the Speaker of the House position, as well as the only woman to get that close the presidency. After the Vice President, she was now second in line via the presidential order of succession. Pelosi became Speaker again in 2018. 

“It is an historic moment for the Congress, and a historic moment for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years,” Pelosi said after receiving the gavel. “For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them.”

Pelosi’s Congressional career began 20 years before, when she was one of only 25 women who served in both the House and the Senate. She became the Democratic whip in 2001 and served as the minority leader between 2003 and her election as speaker in 2007. In 2002, she was one of the House members to vote against President George W. Bush’s request to use military force in Iraq.

During her first two terms as Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011, she developed a reputation as a tireless fundraiser and a successful securer of votes within her caucus. Her terms as speaker also coincided with Barack Obama’s first presidential term, and Pelosi was instrumental on organizing House votes for the Affordable Care Act.

During the 2010 midterms, the National Republican Congressional Committee cited her in 70 percent of its ads. The Democrats lost their House majority that election and Pelosi returned to her position as minority leader. After Democrats reclaimed the House in the 2018 midterms, she received her party’s nomination to be its official candidate for Speaker of the House. In 2019, as Speaker, Pelosi oversaw the impeachment of President Donald Trump. 

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