(1924 – 2005)
1st Black woman elected to congress.
she became the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
Her campaign slogan: “Unbought and Unbossed”
the first licensed Black pilot in the world
Coleman—who went to flight school in France in 1919—paved the way for a new generation of diverse fliers like the Tuskegee airmen, Blackbirds, and Flying Hobos.
(1896 – 1977)
Waters first entered the entertainment business in the 1920s as a blues singer, but she made history for her work in television. In addition to becoming the first African American to star in her own TV show in 1939, The Ethel Waters Show, she was nominated for her first Emmy in 1962.
(1908 – 2007)
A pioneer in law, Jane Bolin was the first Black woman to attend Yale Law School in 1931. In 1939, she became the first Black female judge in the United States, where she served for 10 years. One of her significant contributions throughout her career was working with private employers to hire people based on their skills, as opposed to discriminating against them because of their race. She also served on the boards of the NAACP, Child Welfare League of America, and the Neighborhood Children’s Center.
(1866 – 1932)
Thanks to the early accomplishments of Williams, as the first Black woman to produce, write, and act in her own movie in 1923, The Flames of Wrath, we have female directors and producers like Oprah, Ava DuVernay, and Shonda Rhimes. Beyond film, the former Kansas City teacher was also an activist, and detailed her leadership skills in the book she authored, My Work and Public Sentiment in 1916.
(1954 – )
Bridges probably had no idea that the bold act she committed in 1960 would set off a chain reaction leading to the integration of schools in the South. She was just six years old when she became the first African American student to attend William Frantz Elementary in Louisiana at the height of desegregation. She is now the chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which was formed in 1999 to promote “the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences.”
(1956 – )
Mae Jemison wasn’t just the first African American woman who orbited into space aboard the shuttle Endeavour. She’s also a physician, teacher, a Peace Corps volunteer, and president of tech company, the Jemison Group. She continues to work towards the advancement of young women of color getting more involved in technology, engineering, and math careers.
(1922 – 2015)
McCoy’s name may not be instantly recognizable, but she wrote and produced some of the biggest pop songs in the 1950s. In an industry dominated by white males, McCoy was able to make her mark through her pen, even if she couldn’t through her own voice. Her songs, “After All” and “Gabbin’ Blues” never quite took off on the charts, but she was courted by music labels to write for other artists, including hit singles for Big Maybelle, Elvis Presley, and Big Joe Turner. So now when you hear Presley’s “Trying to Get You,” you’ll remember the name of the African American woman who wrote it.
The West African-born poet spent most of her life enslaved, working for John Wheatley and his wife as a servant in the mid-1700s. Despite never having received a formal education, Wheatley became the first African American and third woman to publish a book of poems, entitled, Poems on Various Subjects. However, she died before securing a publisher for her second volume of poetry and letters. You can see the monument erected for her at the Boston Women’s Memorial.
April 9, 1921-February 11, 2005
Mathematician Mary Winston Jackson excelled academically in a time of racial segregation. Her math and science skills earned her a position as a “human computer” for NACA, and she later became NASA’s first black female engineer. Along with serving a vital role in the development of the space program, she helped other women and minorities advance their careers. Jackson died in February 2005 at the age of 83. The story of her groundbreaking contributions to NASA was later dramatized in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.