A History of African-American Women In The Workforce

African-American-Women-Historical-FirstsIt’s no secret that woman have had to work hard to get to where we are now in the workplace. (And we’re still not on equal footing.) But it’s also no secret that African-American women in particular have had to work harder.

In research for their book, Documenting Desegregation, authors Kevin Stainback and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey found that since 1970, segregation between black and white women in the American workplace has increased – “so much so that it has eliminated progress made in the late 1960s,” they note in an article written for The Washington Post.

While we can’t yet claim equality based on race or gender, it’s worth looking back to see just how much progress has been made. In honor of Black History Month, here are 26 significant moments for African-American women in the workforce.

First known African-American woman to publish a book
Phillis Wheatley
, who wrote Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773

First college instructor
Sarah Jane Woodson Early
Wilberforce College, 1858

First to receive a degree
Mary Jane Patterson
Oberlin College in 1862

First to enlist in the U.S. Army
Cathay Williams
in 1866

First to hold a patent:
Sarah E. Goode, for the cabinet bed, in 1885

First to found and become president of a bank
Maggie L. Walker
, with St. Luke Penny Savings Bank (now the Consolidated Bank & Trust Company), in 1903

First to earn a Ph.D. in the U.S
Sadie Tanner Mossell
, who earned her degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1921

First to head a federal agency
Mary McLeod Bethune
, head of the National Youth Administration in 1938

First to win a Pulitzer
Gwendolyn Brooks
, for her book of poetry, Annie Allen, in 1949

First ambassador of the United States:
Patrician Roberts Harrisambassador to Luxembourg in 1965, who was later the first African-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban development in 1977

First elected to U.S. House of Representatives
Shirley Chisholm
, a Democrat from New York, in 1968

First graduate of Harvard Business School
Lillian Lincoln
, in 1969

First mayor of a U.S. city
Doris A. Davis
mayor of Compton, Calif., in 1973

First with a signature to appear on U.S. currency
Azie Taylor Morton
, the 36th treasurer of the United States, in 1977

First elected as to a U.S. judgeship, and first appointed to a state Supreme Court:
Juanita Kidd Stout, who achieved both milestones in 1988

First astronaut
Dr. Mae Jemison
 on the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992

First elected to U.S. Senate
Carol Moseley Braun
, a Democrat from Illinois, in 1992

First to win the Nobel Prize for Literature
Toni Morrison
 in 1993, who also is the first African-American to be awarded the prize

First president of an Ivy League university
Ruth J. Simmons
 of Brown University, appointed in 2001

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