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The fight for gender equality: Timeline of notable events in U.S. women’s history

Alicia Colombo

The United States designated March as Women’s History Month in 1987 to celebrate the many contributions that women have made — and continue to make — to our history, culture and society. The 2022 theme, “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” pays tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during the ongoing pandemic.

American women have long fought for equal footing throughout the nation’s history – and continue to do so, proving that when there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit. Here are some highlights of key historical events in American women’s history.

July 19-20, 1848: The first women’s rights convention, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, was held in New York. Frederick Douglas was among 98 signers of “The Declaration of Sentiments,” which sparked decades of activism and led to the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote.

January 23, 1849: Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to graduate from medical school (Geneva College in New York) and become a doctor in the United States. She had the highest grades in her class.

May 29, 1851: Former slave turned abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Sojourner Truth delivers her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio: “I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much as a man … and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne 13 children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me!”

March 1, 1864: Rebecca Lee Crumpler receives a medical degree from the New England Female Medical College and becomes the first Black woman physician in America. In 1883, she published the first medical textbook authored by a Black American.

Dec. 10, 1869: The Wyoming legislature passes America’s first suffrage law, granting women the right to vote and hold office.

May 15, 1869: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton found the National Woman Suffrage Association, which coordinated the suffrage movement.

April 2, 1917: Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a longtime suffrage activist, is sworn in as the first woman elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives.

Aug. 18, 1920: The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, granting women the right to vote. It is nicknamed “The Susan B. Anthony Amendment” in honor of her work on behalf of women’s suffrage.

May 20-21, 1932: Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman, and second pilot (after Charles Lindbergh), to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.

Dec. 1, 1955: Black seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, which helps to launch the civil rights movement.

May 9, 1960: The Food and Drug Administration approves the first commercially produced birth control pill in the world, allowing women to control when and if they have children.

June 10, 1963: The Equal Pay Act is signed into law, prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination between men and women performing the same job in the same workplace.

July 2, 1964: The Civil Rights Act is signed into law. Title VII of the act bans employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin or sex.

June 30, 1966: Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” helps found the National Organization for Women (NOW), using grassroots activism to promote feminist ideals and equal rights for women in all aspects of society, politics and economics.

June 23, 1972: Title IX of the Education Amendments is signed into law, prohibiting exclusion on the basis of sex from participation in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Jan. 22, 1973: In its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declares that the Constitution protects a woman’s legal right to an abortion.

Sept. 20, 1973:
In “The Battle of the Sexes,” tennis great Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs in straight sets during an exhibition match aired on primetime TV.

July 7, 1981: Sandra Day O’Connor is sworn in as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

June 18, 1983: Flying on the Space Shuttle Challenger, Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space.

July 12, 1984: U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first woman vice president nominee by a major party.

March 12, 1993: Janet Reno is sworn in as the first female attorney general of the United States.

Sept. 13, 1994: The Violence Against Women Act is signed into law, providing funding for programs that help victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, stalking and other gender-related violence.

Jan. 23, 1997: Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the nation’s first female secretary of state.

Jan. 4, 2007: U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House.

Jan. 24, 2013: The U.S. military removes its ban on women serving in combat positions.

July 26, 2016: Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman to receive a presidential nomination from a major political party.

Jan. 20, 2021: Kamala Harris is sworn in as the first woman vice president of the United States.

Feb. 2, 2022: The U.S. Women’s National Team and U.S. Soccer Federation settle an equal pay lawsuit for $24 million. The federation pledges to equalize pay for men’s and women’s soccer players.

To read more about women’s history, go to

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