February 26, 2021
7 Groundbreaking Female Firsts in U.S. History
Photo courtesy of Biography.com
Born in 1864, Maggie Lena Walker became the first woman in the U.S. to charter a bank in 1903.1 She founded St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank and served as the president of its successor until her death in 1934. During her tenure, St. Luke’s merged with two other banks to form The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, the oldest bank in the U.S. to have Black ownership status.
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Born as Sarah Breedlove to formerly enslaved parents in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker is considered the first female millionaire in the U.S. In 1904, after suffering from hair loss, she launched her line of hair care products for Black women, Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. At the time of her death in 1919, her net worth was valued at over $1 million.1
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Born in 1928, Muriel Siebert became a pioneer on Wall Street. In 1967, she became the first woman to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. She was the only woman at the time, joining 1,365 male members. That same year, she founded the Siebert Financial Corp., an investment group still in operation today.2
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Today, The Washington Post is one of the most respected newspapers in the U.S. In 1972, Katharine Graham became the first female CEO of the paper’s parent company, The Washington Company. Under her leadership, The Washington Post famously covered the Watergate scandal, sealing the paper’s position as a leader in investigative journalism.
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Temp work has become a staple in corporate America, offering work opportunities for millions. In the 1970’s, Janice Bryant Howroyd was working as a temp secretary in Los Angeles. Born in 1952, she opened ActOne Group employment agency in 1978 with $1,500 and a $900 loan from her mother.3 Since 2018, she has been named by Forbes as one of the wealthiest self-made women in the U.S. In 2020, her net worth was estimated at $285 million. She is known for being the first Black woman to run a business valued at nearly $1 billion.1
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Born in 1974, Stacey Cunningham began working as an intern on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 1994. She rose through the ranks, serving as COO from 2015 to 2018.4 In 2018, she made history when she became the first female president of the NYSE, after 226 years of its operation.5
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This year, no list of female firsts would be complete without mention of Kamala Harris. Born in 1964, she began her career as an attorney in California’s Alameda County District Attorney’s office, prosecuting crimes against children. She was elected as the first female District Attorney in San Francisco in 2004, and was elected as California’s Attorney General in 2011, becoming the first Black woman and first South Asian American woman in that role.6 In 2017, she was elected to the Senate, and in 2020 she made history by being the first woman elected as Vice President of the United States. She is currently the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history.7