Take Ten – American Women Firsts

March is Women’s History Month! In celebration, we’re highlighting the specific experiences of some American female pioneers. The accomplishments of the women listed below came about because of their perseverance, their belief in themselves, and most likely, because they enjoyed what they were doing (which is something all of us can learn from!). Read one of the biographies and get inspired.


First African-American woman to become a published poet – Phyllis Wheatley

Biography – Phyllis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage by Vincent Carretta

  • With Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), Phillis Wheatley (1753?–1784) became the first English-speaking person of African descent to publish a book and only the second woman–of any race or background– to do so in America. Written in Boston while she was just a teenager, and when she was still a slave, Wheatley’s work was an international sensation. In Phillis Wheatley , Vincent Carretta offers the first full-length biography of a figure whose origins and later life have remained shadowy despite her iconic status. (From the TFPL catalog summary.)


First American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize – Edith Wharton

Biography – Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee

  • A critical biography of one of America’s greatest writers describes Wharton’s adventure-filled travels in Europe, the literary and artistic circles in which she lived and worked, her heroism during World War I, and the evolution of her writing.


First American woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean – Amelia Earhart

Biography – Amelia Earhart: The Turbulent Life of an American Icon by Kathleen C. Winters

  • In this nuanced and often surprising biography, acclaimed aviation historian Kathleen C. Winters moves beyond the caricature of the spunky, precocious pilot to offer a more complex portrait. Drawing on a wealth of contemporary accounts, airline records, and other original research, this book reveals a flawed heroine who was frequently reckless and lacked basic navigation skills, but who was also a canny manipulator of mass media. Winters details how Earhart and her husband, publisher George Putnam, worked to establish her as an international icon, even as other spectacular pilots went unnoticed. Sympathetic yet unsentimental, this biography helps us to see Amelia Earhart with fresh eyes. (From the publisher.)


First American woman to swim the English Channel – Gertrude Ederle

Biography – Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World by Glenn Stout

  • In 1926, a plucky American teenager named Trudy Ederle captured the imagination of the world when she became the first woman to swim the English Channel. Stout offers the dramatic and inspiring story of Ederle’s pursuit of a goal no one believed possible, and the price she paid.


First American woman to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice – Sandra Day O’Connor

Biography – Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice by Joan Biskupic

  • Uses interviews with hundreds of legal and political insiders and information from formerly-private papers of the justices, chronicles the life and career of the first female justice on the United States Supreme Court.


First American woman to become U.S. Secretary of State – Madeline Albright

Biography – Madam Secretary: A Biography of Madeline Albright by Thomas Blood

  • No American envoy has ever burst on the diplomatic scene and grabbed center stage in the theater of foreign relations like Madeleine Albright. Thomas Blood takes us behind the scenes for a rare look at Madeleine Albright, the role model, the single mother, and the tough-as-nails diplomat. From her family’s horrifying escape from the Communists in Czechoslovakia, to her astounding rise to power, Blood unfolds the fascinating story of Madeleine Albright’s memorable life. (From the TFPL catalog summary.)


First American woman to become the Chief of the Cherokee Nation – Wilma Mankiller

Biography – Mankiller: A Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallis

  • The first female chief of a large tribe, the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, tells her life story, from her childhood on Mankiller Flats to her struggle to lead her people into a new century.


First American woman to be elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Aretha Franklin

Biography – Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul by Mark Bego

  • Traces the life of Aretha Franklin from deserted child, to teenage mother, to Grammy winner, to inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.


First American woman to become a self-made millionaire – Madam C.J. Walker

Biography – Her Dream of Dreams: The Rise and Triumph of Madam C.J. Walker by Beverly Lowry

  • A portrait of the first female self-made millionaire describes her birth in 1867 to former slaves, the creation of her cosmetics empire, and her work as a philanthropist and women’s rights champion.


First American woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 Company – Katherine Graham

Biography – Katherine Graham: The Leadership Journey of an American Icon by Robin Gerber

  • Robin Gerber focuses on the heart of Graham’s success: her leadership. Gerber shows how Graham overcame an emotionally impoverished childhood, deep insecurities, and a marriage to a brilliant but mentally ill husband. Drawing on exclusive interviews with some of her closest friends and colleagues, such as Ben Bradlee, Sally Quinn, Margaret Carlson, and Gloria Steinem, Gerber analyzes the principles that guided Graham’s toughest decisions.


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