As we celebrate Women’s History Month, take inspiration from the women who blazed a trail in their respective fields—like Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State; Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court; and Ellen Ochoa, the world’s first Hispanic female astronaut.
Let's take a look at five more women from past to present, who also took those first inspiring steps that changed history forever.
1) Edith Wharton
Born into New York’s high society in 1862, Edith Wharton turned the pen to the time and place of her childhood to write The Age of Innocence, a novel about 19th-Century East Coast privilege that won her a Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1921. She was the first woman to win the award. Wharton was also nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times. She had previously criticized the upper class in her 1905 novel, The House of Mirth. Her 1911 novel, Ethan Frome, became a pillar of high school reading lists.
2) Grace Hopper
Also known as “Amazing Grace,” Grace Hopper accomplished several firsts: She was the first woman to earn a PhD in mathematics from Yale University, in 1934; one of the first co-creators of the first computer programming languages, COBOL; and the first female recipient of the National Medal of Technology, in 1991. Hopper also brought a word into the popular computing lexicon as a way to describe fixing glitches: “debugging.” The computer whiz was a U.S. Navy rear admiral and was the oldest serving officer at the time of her retirement, at age 79. In 1997, five years after her death, the Navy named destroyer USS Hopper after her.
2) Muriel Siebert
Muriel “Mickie” Siebert, a college dropout, grabbed the title “First Woman of Finance” as the first woman with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and the first woman head of a NYSE member firm, Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc. She broke down the doors to the male-dominated finance world in 1967 by applying for her NYSE seat, and as the story goes, the first nine men whom she asked to sponsor her application turned her down. In 1977, she was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Banks for the State of New York. She was active in women’s organizations until her death, in August 2013.
4) Janet Guthrie
Janet Guthrie had a need for speed. The pro racecar driver was the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup stock car race, the Indianapolis 500, and the Daytona 500. Throughout her career, which reached its height in the 1970s, supporters questioned whether gender bias prevented her from qualifying for more races. In time, she was recognized for her accomplishments, being among the first class inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006.
5) Kathryn Bigelow
She may have been the third wife of director James Cameron, but Kathryn Bigelow was more importantly a first in her own career. She was the first woman to win an Academy Award for directing, in 2010, for her film The Hurt Locker. Interestingly, she was up against her ex-hubby for the award. Bigelow is still the only woman to receive the honor and was only the fourth to be nominated for it. Bigelow also racked up a number of other awards that were firsts for women, from the Directors Guild of America, BAFTA, and the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. Her 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.