Famous Female Firsts

Inspirational women have made great contributions to innumerable fields of science, literature, politics, sports, politics, and many more besides. Here are a few of the greatest.


A Soviet propaganda poster featuring Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.

Michelle Obama once said, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens”.  Recognizing women who have broken barriers and made history allows us to give credit where credit is due and realize just how much women have contributed to society.. It also can inspire us to chase our dreams, regardless of how improbable or unusual they may seem to the world.

Ada Byron daguerreotype by Antoine Claudet 1843 or 1850.jpg
Ada Lovelace in an 1843 photograph Photo: Antoine Claudet

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace broke the gender barrier in technology when she became the world’s first known computer programmer ever, male or female. She was taught under the wing of Charles Babbage, known as the father of the computer and the inventor of the Analytical Engine.

The Analytical Engine was one of the world’s first computers, essentially a calculator. In her notes of a translation of an article on this machine, she not only mentioned codes that could allow it to also use symbols and letters in addition to numbers, but she also gave a theory on how to make it repeat processes, or do what programmers today call loops.

In acknowledgment of her contributions to the field, the United States Department of Defense named a then newly developed computer language “Ada,” after Lovelace in 1980.


Ibtihaj Mohammed

Ibtihaj Mohammed made history as the first Muslim woman to wear the hijab (headscarf worn by most Muslim women as an expression of their faith) and participate in the Olympics on Team USA. She also helped bring home a bronze medal in fencing in 2016 and was named one of TIME Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People’ of 2016. File:Ibtihaj Muhammad DIG14364-123.jpg


She started her own fashion brand, Louella, to try and bring fashionable, modest Islamic clothing to hundreds of women. She also authored a children’s book titled “The Proudest Blue,” about a little girl who learns to be proud of her Muslim identity, and a biography named “Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream,” about making it to the top of a sport normally reserved for the wealthy, as a Muslim woman of color.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to go to space on mission Vostok 6 in 1963.  She spent almost three days in space and orbited Earth 48 times in her space capsule.  She is also an engineer and a member of the Russian State Duma, or the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia. She broke boundaries and exceeded the world’s expectations of a woman, especially during the time period she worked in.  She made history and in doing so, has encouraged others to follow their dreams to the sky and beyond.

Ilhan Omar speaks in October 2016. Photo: Lorie Shaull

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American Muslim legislator in the United States. In 2018, she was elected to the United States House of Representatives for the 5th Congressional District of Minnesota.  Since her election, she has pushed back against President Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” sponsored the Yemen War Powers Resolution to end US involvement in the war and joined the Black Maternal Caucus as a founder.

Omar told People Magazine, “This is a land of immigrants and most come here for opportunity, a second chance. It’s our time to fight for the America we know we can have.”  She shows how she is willing to struggle for a better tomorrow, not just for herself, having already gone through so much as a war refugee, but also for the rest of humanity, to create a world that has less bigotry, racism, and hatred for those who don’t look like what is considered “normal” or agree with mainstream ideals.  She is trying to show that America is meant to be for everyone, regardless of their skin color, and that we can all come together to create a better society.

Mae Jemison

Jemison aboard the Endeavour space shuttle in 1992.

Dr. Mae Jemison was unique in so many ways.  Not only was she the first African American woman to travel into space, but she was also a chemical engineer and a doctor. Unfortunately, women in science, technology, engineering, and math (otherwise known as STEM) careers, is a rarity. Dr. Jemison not only followed one STEM path but went into three different STEM careers.

She first graduated from Stanford as a chemical engineer. She then went on to medical school at Cornell University. After working as a physician for a while, she became an astronaut with NASA. In 1987, Dr.Jemison was one of 15 candidates chosen from a pool of 2000 applicants to be a part of their training program. She went into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and when she came back, she encouraged society to recognize the potential contributions of women and minorities if they were given the opportunity. Her journey shows that standing out is not necessarily a bad thing and that following your dreams and passions is more important than fitting into society’s expectations.