Women's History Timeline

Women's History Timeline

1776-1800  • 1801-1850  • 1851-1900  • 1901-1950  • 1951-present


1776: Abigail Adams is the wife of John Adams, the second president of the United States and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth U.S. president. John and Abigail enjoy a long and spirited relationship with extended periods of written correspondence while John is away on government business. In reference to his work on the Declaration of Independence, she writes to remind him that women “will not hold ourselves bound by laws which we have no voice.”

1782: Deborah Sampson disguises herself as a man and enlists in the Continental Army serving in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. She is wounded at a battle near Tarrytown, New York.

1784: Hanna Adams is the first American woman to support herself by writing.

1791: French activist Olympia de Gouges publishes Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne (“Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the [Female] Citizen”), in which she argues that women are citizens as much as are men. She goes to the guillotine in 1793.

1700s-early 1800s: Under common law, an unmarried woman can own property, make a contract and sue or be sued. A married woman gives up her name and all her property to her husband.


1804: The Napoleonic Code of France considers women—like criminals, children, and the insane—to be legal minors. A woman's husband controls her property and, in the case of divorce, gets the children.

1817: The South African warrior queen Mmanthatisi becomes the leader of the Tlokwa (a southern Sotho group). She plans military strategy and leads the nation to a new homeland in Lesotho.

1819: Emma Hart Willard writes her "Plan for Improving Female Education," which calls for a publicly funded educational institution for women. In 1821, she opens a school in Troy, NY with the tax funds from the city.

1826: The first public high schools for girls open in New York City and Boston.

1828: Former slave Isabella van Wagener obtains her freedom and later takes the name Sojourner Truth. She begins to preach against slavery throughout New York and New England. In 1850, she encounters the women’s rights movement and incorporates its cause to hers. In 1851 she delivers her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention to an enthralled audience, cementing her reputation as a dynamic speaker. During the Civil War she supports black volunteer regiments and is received by President Abraham Lincoln at the White House.

1833: Oberlin College in Ohio opens as the first co-educational college in the U.S.

1838: Mount Holyoke College is established in Massachusetts as first college for women.

1848: The first woman's rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. Attended by 300 people including 40 men. Discussions range from the reforming marriage and property laws to a woman’s right to vote. In the end, 68 women and 32 men sign a Declaration of Sentiments calling for equal treatment of women and men under law and voting rights for women. The catalyst for this convention is the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London in 1840 and attended by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The women are forced to sit in the gallery as observers because they were women.

1849: Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery in Maryland to Philadelphia. By the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Tubman will have returned to the South some 19 times and rescued upward of 300 other slaves.

1849: Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Women doctors are permitted to legally practice medicine for the first time.

1850: Women are granted the right to own land in a state (Oregon)

1850: The Female (later Women's) Medical College is founded in Pennsylvania.


1852: Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom's Cabin, one of the most important antislavery novels in America; it sells 300,000 copies in the first year.

1862: In Sweden, single women who pay taxes win the right to vote in municipal elections.

1863: Mary Edwards Walker becomes a surgeon for the Union army in the American Civil War. In 1865 she receives a Congressional Medal of Honor. It is revoked shortly before her death and then reawarded posthumously.

1865: The University of Zürich becomes the first European university to admit women.

1868: The 14th Amendment is ratified but does not mention women; thus, they are continually denied the status of legal citizenship. However, also in 1868, women lawyers are licensed in the U.S.

1868: In Thailand, Amdang Munan refuses to marry the man her parents picked for her. She prevails upon the king to rule that women may choose their own husbands.

1869: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton form the National Woman Suffrage Association in order to win the constitutional right to vote.

1869: Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and others form the American Woman Suffrage Association, the objective of which is to gain voting rights for women through state constitutional amendments. The two associations will merge in 1890.

1869: Married women in Britain gain the right to own property.

1870: The 15th Amendment is passed enfranchising black men, but not women, with the right to vote.

1872: In Japan, primary education for girls as well as boys is required by law.

1889: Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr found Hull House in Chicago. It is one of the first settlement houses in the United States and the most famous.

1893: Largely through the efforts of suffragist Kate Sheppard, New Zealand becomes the first country to grant women the right to vote.

1893: Colorado becomes the first state to grant women the right to vote and Utah and Idaho follow in 1896.

1896: The Supreme Court case of Plessey v. Ferguson allows segregation to exist as long as the facilities are “separate but equal.”


1905: Mohtaram Eskandari starts the Union of Patriotic Women, Iran's first organization for women. Religious leaders break up the first meeting and burn some of the women alive.

1906: Women in Finland win the right to vote.

1908: The government of Iran institutes a plan to improve women's literacy.

1912: Juliette Gordon Low founds the Girl Guides (later Girl Scouts) in the United States. By 1927 there will be a troop in every state.

1913: Norwegian women win the right to vote.

1916: Jeanette Rankin becomes the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, when most states don’t grant women the right to vote. She runs for Congress as a progressive Republican and wins serving one term, then unsuccessfully ran for the Senate. After a twenty year hiatus, working for anti-war organizations, Rankin successfully runs again for the House in 1940. She follows her conscience and votes against U.S. entry into World War II, as she had done in the previous war. She does not run for reelection, instead choosing to devote the rest of her life to promoting peace in the United States and abroad.

1918: Canadian and British women are granted the right to vote; although in Great Britain a woman must be over age 30.

1919: Architect Julia Morgan designs several buildings for the University of California, Berkley, and later becomes William Randolph Hearst’s chief architect. She designs the Los Angeles Examiner Building and the Hearst Castle.

1920: After over seventy years of struggle, women are finally granted the right to vote as the 19th Amendment is ratified. With most southern states against the Amendment, the vote comes down to the state of Tennessee where it passes by one vote in the Tennessee house. The deciding vote is cast by Representative Harry Burn who carried in his pocket a letter from his mother encouraging him to vote for women’s suffrage.

1921: American novelist Edith Wharton becomes the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel Age of Innocence.

1921: Margaret Sanger forms the American Birth Control League (which evolves into Planned Parenthood in 1942) and opens a birth-control clinic in New York City in 1923.

1930: White South African women get the right to vote.

1931: Jane Addams receives the Nobel Prize for Peace.

1932: Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and across the country. Congress awards her the Distinguished Flying Cross.

1932: Women of Brazil and Thailand are granted the right to vote.

1933: Franklin D. Roosevelt appoints Frances Perkins secretary of labor, and she becomes the first American female cabinet member.

1933: Portugal's new constitution specifically denies women's equal rights.

1934: Florence Ellinwood Allen becomes first woman on US Court of Appeals.

1937: Women in the Philippines get the right to vote.

1940: Margaret Chase Smith is elected to fill her late husband's seat in the U.S. Congress; she becomes the first woman to serve in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

1941-1945: At the outbreak of World War II, American men go off to war in droves and leave a gaping hole in the workforce needed to build the tools of war. To meet the demand, government actively recruits women to fill the gap. Initially, the effort was met with resistance so the government created a promotion campaign, "Rosie the Riveter" was a compilation of different efforts by private industry and government to get more people involved in the war effort. After the war, many women returned to their domestic roles in the home, but many remained working while their husbands went back to school under the GI Bill®. Though female numbers in the workforce dropped off after the war, they never returned to their lower pre-war levels.

1946: Sudan's first modern women's organization, the Sudanese Women's League, is founded.

1947: The new Japanese constitution guarantees women's equality.

1948: In the newly created countries of Israel and South Korea, women win the right to vote.

1949: Argentinian Eva Perón founds the Peronista Feminist Party.


1955: The Montgomery, Alabama transportation system employs a segregated system on city buses where African-Americans are required to sit in the back rows of the bus. If all seats are full and a white person comes on the bus, African-Americans are required to give up their seat. Rosa Parks boards the bus on December 1, 1955 after a long day of work. After a few stops all seats are full and when the next white person gets on the bus, she is asked to give up her seat. She refuses, is arrested, and placed in jail. African-American community leaders come and pay her bail and soon organize a boycott to challenge the Montgomery transportation segregation laws.

1958: The British House of Lords admits its first female members.

1960: The drug company G.D. Searle receives FDA approval to sell “the pill”. The contraception method gives women unprecedented control over their fertility and freedom in their sexual activity.

1961: Eleanor Roosevelt is appointed to chair the Commission on the Status of Women by John F. Kennedy.

1964: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans discrimination in employment on the basis of race and sex. At the same time the Act establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate complaints and impose penalties on sex discrimination.

1966: Many women activists are frustrated with the EEOC’s lack of aggressive enforcement, which leads Betty Goldstein Friedan and Rev. Pauli Murray to the form the National Organization for Women (NOW) as a leading organization to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society.

1971: Women in Switzerland win the right to vote.

1972: Title IX of the Education Amendments bans sex discrimination in public schools resulting in the substantial increased enrollment of women in athletic programs and professional schools

1973: The Supreme Court hands down its ruling in Roe v. Wade, establishing a woman's right to safe and legal abortion and overriding the anti-abortion laws of many states.

1974: The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy becomes the first U.S. service academy to enroll women.

1975: Pregnancy and Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

1975: Ella Grasso, from Connecticut, becomes the first woman governor to be re-elected.

1977: Nigerian women are granted the right to vote.

1977: President Carter names Graciela Olivarez, a Hispanic lawyer, the Director of Community Services Administrations. Olivarez is the former chair of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

1979: Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female prime minister of Great Britain.

1981: President Ronald Reagan nominates Sandra Day O'Connor to become the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. As an associate justice, O’Connor becomes the crucial swing vote for many cases where the Court is split along ideological lines.

1981: President Reagan nominates Jeane Kirkpatrick as the first woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

1981: Chinese American Maya Lin wins a public design competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial while still an undergraduate architecture student at Yale University.

1983: Iranian women are required to wear the chador; the penalty for appearing unveiled is a prison sentence of 1 to 12 months.

1986: Oprah Winfrey becomes the first African American woman to host a nationally syndicated talk show when "The Oprah Winfrey Show" debuts.

1988: Benazir Bhutto becomes prime minister of Pakistan. She is the first woman leader of a Muslim country in modern history.

1990: Violeta Barrios de Chamorro is elected president of Nicaragua. She is Central America's first female president.

1993: President Bill Clinton appoints Janet Reno to serve as the first woman U.S. Attorney General.

1993: France Anne Córdova becomes the first woman – and the youngest person – to hold the position of Chief Scientist for NASA.

1994: The Violence Against Women Act tightens federal penalties for sex offenders, funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence, and provides for special training of police officers.

1996: A report on female genital mutilation urges international action to end the ancient rite of passage that has already been performed on roughly 100 million girls worldwide.

1997: Nominated by President Bill Clinton, Madeleine K. Albright becomes first woman U.S. Secretary of State. Before that, she served as U.N. Ambassador.

2000: Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes the only First Lady ever elected to the United States Senate.

2001: President Bush nominates Linda Chavez to Secretary of Labor, making her the first Hispanic woman to be nominated to a United States Cabinet position.

2004: Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai is awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, becoming the first black African woman to win a Nobel Prize.

2005: Condoleezza Rice becomes the first African-American woman appointed Secretary of State.

2007: Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

2007: Pratibha Patil becomes the first woman president of India.

2009: Sonia Sotomayor becomes the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.