25 Trailblazing Female Firsts


Gender discrimination has been an unwelcome fact of life for centuries, with women at various times having to fight for the right to do something as simple as owning a credit card or serving on a jury. While the ignorance of lawmakers and society at large has been a perpetual obstacle, there are plenty of women who navigated sexism and made their mark on history. Take a look at 25 who refused to be defined by their gender.


When her husband, Thomas, died of typhoid in 1888, Marie Owens needed to support her five children: She got a job enforcing child labor laws, first with the Chicago Department of Health and then the city's police department. Proudly sporting a police star and powers of arrest, Detective Sergeant Owens spent her career uncovering illegal child hires and promoting educational resources among employers. She was so successful that her tenure lasted well beyond a later official mandate that effectively stopped the hiring of women. (It was later rescinded.) When she died in 1927 at age 70, she had logged more than 32 years on the force.



During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States were jockeying for position in the uncharted territories of space travel. Aboard the Vostok 6 in 1963, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova made history for Russia by becoming the first woman to orbit the earth. (To allow the U.S. those honors, argued General Kamanin, would "hurt the patriotic feelings of Soviet women.") Tereshkova took pictures of the planet and the moon, and logged reports of the physical effects of spaceflight. (She also had a brush with disaster when she discovered that her craft was programmed to ascend but not descend, a fault that was quickly fixed.) Her trip remains the only solo female excursion into orbit, although it might not have been the most hygienic: Tereshkova forgot to pack her toothbrush.


When Sally Priesand was a teenager in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s, it was virtually unheard of for a female to occupy any of the religious roles traditionally held by men. Undeterred, she enrolled in rabbinic school after a stint at the University of Cincinnati. When she began applying at synagogues, she found that the idea of a woman rabbi was almost incomprehensible to her interviewers. Despite the lack of opportunities, she was fully ordained in 1972 and spoke out valiantly for equality in the faith through her retirement in 2006.



Since the first ceremony in 1929, the Academy Awards passed their Best Director statuette to a male every single year—and through 2010, only four females had even been nominated for the honor. But the streak ended that year when Kathryn Bigelow beat out frontrunner (and former husband) James Cameron for her work on The Hurt Locker, an intense Iraqi war drama. Her nomination and win helped shine a light on the disparity in the film business, though these statistics are still true today—no woman has been nominated since Bigelow's historic win. According to The New York Times, 93 percent of the top 250 films of 2009 were directed by men; unfortunately, in 2016, the number of women directors for top 250 films was still at just 7 percent [PDF].


Circa 1975. Getty

At just 5 feet tall and 92 pounds, Junko Tabei co-led a group of 15 women to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1975, becoming the first female ever to reach the peak. Tabei’s effort came after she organized an all-female climbing club after graduating college, encountering resistance from men who believed the treacherous journey was unfit for women. She would eventually ascend the highest summit on every continent.


Pieper took on the Pikes Peak marathon in 1959 as a personal challenge and to advertise her and her husband's gym. She chose Pikes Peak because the Boston Marathon wouldn’t allow females to enter the race. Pieper finished in just over nine hours but wasn’t informed she was the first woman to finish a marathon until 2009.


Breedlove driving a car. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Inheritances are nice but can prove to be little indication of one’s entrepreneurial spirit. When Sarah Breedlove made her fortune, she knew it had come solely as the result of her work ethic. Born to former slaves in 1867, Breedlove was widowed at age 20 and spent years scraping to get by. At the turn of the century, she began advertising a hair-growth tonic she claimed had regrown her own lost locks, and around the same time she met Charles J. Walker, who would become her third husband. The business was so fertile that her salespeople sometimes made up to $15 a day in an era when white blue-collar workers could expect $11 a week. Breedlove—who became best known by her company name, Madam C.J. Walker—died in 1919, regarded as America's first self-made female millionaire.


Before chauvinistic J. Edgar Hoover took hold of the proto-FBI in 1924, the bureau appointed "refined" Alaska Davidson to the title of special agent. Davidson’s primary focus was on what might now be considered human trafficking: transporting women across state lines for lurid purposes. Davidson was 54 when she started, defying ageism as well as gender inequality.


From 1925 to 1927, Nellie Tayloe Ross was the sitting governor of Wyoming. While her status as the first female to hold that office is laudable, it came at a steep price: Ross was appointed to run for the seat after her husband, Governor William Bradford Ross, died before his re-election. It was believed Wyoming would be hospitable to a female governor, and history bore that out: Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote, in 1869. Ross was later director of the U.S. Mint from 1933 to 1953.


A devoted proponent of women’s rights, Susan B. Anthony fought for decades so women could own property and enjoy other basic rights men took for granted. To celebrate her achievements, in 1979 the U.S. Treasury put Anthony’s likeness on one dollar coins, marking the first time an actual woman had been featured on non-commemorative U.S. currency. Previously, only Lady Liberty had been bestowed the honor.


Mushing dogs across 1150 miles of Alaskan landscape is never for the weak of heart, which is why winners of the Iditarod dog sled competition are hailed as formidable competitors. In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to cross the finish line ahead of the pack (she'd also raced in 1980 and 1981). Braving a terrific storm near the end of the line, Riddles took first in just over 18 days of trekking.



Before her current role as assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings, Lieberman won a silver medal at the 1976 Olympic Games. That team experience eventually led to coaching positions that culminated in a 2009 post for the Texas Legends NBA developmental league (or, D-League)—the job that made Lieberman the first female head coach of any NBA-affiliated team.


A native of Poland, Chojnowska-Liskiewicz met her husband through a shared love of the water. But after studying sailing and buying a yacht, the amateur sea captain decided to make a solo venture of her ambition to sail around the world. Launching her journey from the Canary Islands in February 1976, it took her just over two years to land in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.



With no way of knowing she’d become one of the most influential women of the 20th century, all Amelia Earhart had when she made the first female solo flight across the Atlantic was ambition. Earhart had previously been a passenger on the flight in 1928, causing her to feel like "a sack of potatoes." Dissatisfied with the passive experience, she made the trip solo in 1932, opening the door for future generations of female aviators to take control of the burgeoning aviation industry.


In 1900, 22-year-old Abbott took first place in the Paris Olympics golf competition. Her secret? Practical dress. Other female entrants wore skirts and high heels: Abbott showed up for business, earning a porcelain bowl for her efforts. (There weren’t any gold medals to hand out that early in the Games’ history, and Abbott also wasn't aware it was an actual Olympic event—she went onto the green thinking it was a regular competition, and it was only after she died that it was realized that the golf game counted as that year's Olympics.)



In 2014, the then 13-year-old Davis made Little League history by becoming the first female to ever pitch a winning shutout game in the county's adolescent World Series tournament. The predominantly male competition had seen only three female pitchers make it to the World Series before, but only Davis pitched a shutout. She later donated her jersey to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.


In 1648, it was unheard of for any woman to stand before any official assembly and ask—let alone demand—a right to vote. But that’s exactly what Margaret Brent did in the Maryland Assembly that year. Brent, a prominent landowner of the time, spoke out frequently about being represented in official matters in the state’s assembly. While she didn’t succeed, her prowess in handling property like cattle helped keep the colony intact during politically tumultuous times.


From 1775 to 1918, the United States Marine Corps refused to admit any women. When the rule was relaxed, Opha May Johnson was the first to enlist [PDF]. Johnson signed up as a reserve clerk at the age of 40, a trailblazing decision that eventually led to females occupying roles as commanders and generals.


Excising teeth was a man’s vocation until Emeline Roberts Jones began to think otherwise. The Connecticut native began working on patients officially in 1855, after disclosing to her dentist husband that she had been secretly extracting and filling teeth. After his death, Jones traveled with a portable dental chair in and around Connecticut and Rhode Island to provide for her family. In 1914, the National Dental Association made her an honorary member.


In 1928, President Calvin Coolidge appointed the U.S. Treasury’s appraiser of merchandise at the port of Cleveland to be the first female judge to sit on a federal court. Cline sat on the U.S. Customs Court for 25 years, paving the way for future female jurists like Florence Allen and Burnita Shelton Matthews.


Horse racing was never hospitable to female jockeys, preferring compact males to drive the thoroughbreds to victory. Diane Crump was escorted by security through throngs of admirers—and some naysayers—en route to mounting her horse for her first professional race in 1968. Despite chants of "go back to the kitchen," Crump persevered, and two weeks later she won her first professional race on her way to the Kentucky Derby in 1970.


Born in 1942, Franklin’s soulful performances over the decades led to her becoming the first woman to be inducted to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987 (inductions had started the previous year, and 16 men were included at the time). She would later be joined by artists like the Supremes and LaVern Baker, although the Hall of Fame still skews predominantly male.


In the 1970s, it was unthinkable that a female reporter could—or would even want to—be granted access to the testosterone-fueled locker rooms of pro sports teams. In addition to not being taken seriously in a male-dominated field, there was a belief that the often-naked athletes made for an inappropriate atmosphere for mixing genders. Robin Herman broke that ceiling in 1975: As the NHL reporter for The New York Times, she convinced the two coaches at the NHL All-Star Game to allow her in the back. Women would continue to fight for such access—one even sued to be allowed in locker rooms during the World Series—but Herman has remained a touchstone for equality in sports journalism.


Boxing and television went hand-in-glove during the medium’s early years, providing an intimate view of pugilism to a nation that embraced prizefighting. In 1954, female fighters Barbara Buttrick and Joanne Hagen made history by becoming the first two women to strap on gloves for TV cameras. Hagen, the U.S. Women’s Boxing Champion, defeated Buttrick in an eight-round decision. "She’s a real battler," Hagen said of her opponent, "and I’m only sorry we both couldn’t have won."

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

Protective Masks with Patterns.

This four-pack of washable cotton face masks comes in tie-dye, kids patterns, and even a series of mustache patterns, so you can do your part to mask germs without also covering your personality.

Buy it: $20 for four (50 percent off)

2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

A woman putting on a protective mask.

You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

Buy it: $50 for 10 (50 percent off)

3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.

These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

Buy it: $13 for 10 (50 percent off)

4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

A batch of disposable masks.
Odash, Inc.

If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

Buy it: $44 for 50 (41 percent off)

5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

Polyester protective masks.

These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

Buy it: $22 for five (56 percent off)

6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

Protective mask case.

You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

Buy it: $15 for three (50 percent off)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

29 Prescient Quotes About the Internet from 1996

Many of the predictions made about the internet in 1996 were wildly accurate—and also quite funny.
Many of the predictions made about the internet in 1996 were wildly accurate—and also quite funny.
Evan Agostini/Liaison/Getty Images Plus

In 1996, the Web was young, but it was hot, and everyone was trying to figure out what it meant. While a lot has changed since then, here are 29 quotes from 1996 that were truly prescient.

1. On the future of America Online

“Ten years from now, America Online will have gone the way of the water-bed store,” Bruce R. Burningham wrote in a letter to the editor published in the January 14, 1996 issue of The New York Times.

2. On Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser

According to the September 16, 1996 issue of TIME, “It’s the browser your mom will use.”

3. On email

“Email is boring but good. Like pencils, it just works,” Tom Jennings told WIRED in April 1996.

4. A comparison to the past

In September 1996, Jim Barksdale, then the CEO of Netscape Communications Corporation, said that “the Internet is the printing press of the technology era.”

5. Cybersex vs. Bird-Watching

When a reader wrote to Ann Landers in June 1996 to emphasize the benefits of the internet—which the reader said they used for graduate research, as well as to attend bird-watching meetings and support groups—Landers responded, “Thanks for accentuating the positive, but I'm afraid more people are interested in cybersex than bird-watching.”

6. On dating online

In a February 1996 article in USA Today, Leslie Miller interviewed Judith A. Broadhurst, author of The Woman's Guide to Online Services. Broadhurst told Miller, “For better or worse, one of the most popular ways to look for a mate in the '90s is on-line … I heard from so many women who met their husbands on-line ... that I began to wonder if anyone meets in any other way anymore.”

7. On catfishing before catfishing was a thing

When one reader asked Dear Abby if he should pay for his (married!) online paramour from Australia to visit him in Michigan, she responded in a July 1996 column that, “It sounds like asking for trouble to me. Aside from the fact that you are carrying on with a married woman, Kate may not be what you expect. I recently heard about a teen who was communicating online with a female he thought was about his age; when they met, he found out she was a 76-year-old granny!”

8. On being addicted to the internet (a.k.a. “Netaholism”)

“Dr. [Kimberly S.] Young said that if alcoholism is any guide to Netaholism, between 2 percent and 5 percent of the estimated 20 million Americans who go on line might be addicted,” Pam Belluck wrote in the December 1, 1996 issue of The New York Times.

9. College and internet addiction

According to a piece in the June 26, 1996 issue of the Chicago Tribune, “Universities are considered hot zones for potential Internet junkies because they often give students free and unlimited Net access.”

10. On losing access to your email

“Letting your e-mail address fall into the wrong hands isn’t exactly like having a maniacal stalker parked outside your front door,” the March 1996 issue of Spin noted. “But it’s close.”

11. On the potential of the internet

“These technologies are going to profoundly affect the way we perceive our humanity,” Anthony Rutkowski, “a de facto global spokesman for all things cyberspace,” told the Washington Post in February 1996. “We all have ideas to share and stories to tell and now we really can.”

12. On the ugliness of online behavior and content

“The people decrying the Net are using technology as a scapegoat for the fact that we haven’t, as a society, addressed these problems,” John Schwartz said in a November 1996 Washington Post article. “Yes, it’s a shame that there are pedophiles on the Internet. But the real horror is there are pedophiles in the real world and that pedophilia exists at all. ... Let’s face facts. To the extent that there’s a problem out there, it’s our society that’s sick—or at least, it has spawned a number of sick and broken people. The Internet, as the most personal medium ever developed, reflects that. I guess cartoonist Walt Kelly said it best: ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’”

13. On the internet’s “insidious seduction”

In the May/June 1996 issue of The American Prospect, Sidney Perkowitz wrote that “Aimless chat is the insidious seduction of the Internet; it can replace inward contemplation and real experience.”

14. On the internet in education

“The Internet has the potential to raise students’ sensitivity,” Diane Romm, one of the first librarians to use the internet, told The New York Times in June 1996. “Because it is international in its communication, people have to become more sensitive to the way what they say may be interpreted by people who come from different cultural backgrounds.”

15. On the virtual experience

“People can get lost in virtual worlds. Some are tempted to think of life in cyberspace as insignificant, as escape or meaningless diversion. It is not,” Sherry Turkle wrote in WIRED’s January 1996 issue. “Our experiences there are serious play. We belittle them at our risk. We must understand the dynamics of virtual experience both to foresee who might be in danger and to put these experiences to best use. Without a deep understanding of the many selves that we express in the virtual, we cannot use our experiences there to enrich the real. If we cultivate our awareness of what stands behind our screen personae, we are more likely to succeed in using virtual experience for personal transformation.”

16. On trying to get people to pay for content online

“There's so much free content [online], it's going to be extremely hard to get people to pay,” Marc Andreessen told USA Today in February 1996.

17. On the decline of print

“I can imagine a not-so distant future when a sizable fraction of professional writers won't ever enter the world of print but will go directly from school to digital publishing,” Paul Roberts said in the July 1996 issue of Harper’s. “Maybe they'll be constrained at first by the needs of older readers who were raised on print and who have only recently and partially and timidly converted to the nonlinear faith. But in time, this will change, as printing comes to be seen as too expensive and cumbersome, as computers become more powerful and more interlinked, and as they show up in every classroom and office, in every living room and den.”

18. On distinguishing between content and ads on the internet

“Sometimes, surfing along on the World Wide Web, you can cross the line from content to advertisement without even knowing it,” Sally Chew wrote in New York Magazine in May 1996.

19. On the internet amplifying individual voices

“The Internet has become the ultimate narrowcasting vehicle: everyone from UFO buffs to New York Yankee fans has a Website (or dozen) to call his own—a dot-com in every pot. Technology will only quicken the pace at which news is moving away from the universal and toward the individualized,” Richard Zoglin said in the October 21, 1996 issue of TIME.

20. World peace versus loss of privacy

“The Web is a crazy quilt of both utopian and Orwellian possibilities,” Elizabeth Corcoran wrote in the Washington Post in June 1996. “Its fans make wide-eyed predictions of world peace and democracy even as privacy advocates say that it will destroy the notion of confidentiality in our home lives.”

21. On internet decryption

“As for encryption, the Government keeps trying to do what governments naturally do: control people. They would like to ban encryption [which scrambles and unscrambles information on computers] to make it easier for law enforcement to listen in on people,” Esther Dyson told The New York Times on July 7, 1996. “In principle, all they want to do is stop crime. But the fact is that encryption is defensive technology against big government, big business, big crime. I’d rather have defensive technology than leave the power to snoop in the hands of people I might not trust.”

22. On Corporate America exploiting the internet

“Technolibertarians rightfully worry about Big Bad Government, yet think commerce unfettered can create all things bright and beautiful—and so they disregard the real invader of privacy: Corporate America seeking ever-better ways to exploit the Net, to sell databases of consumer purchases and preferences, to track potential customers however it can,” Paulina Borsook said in the July/August 1996 issue of Mother Jones.

23. On interacting on the internet

“I think the importance of interactivity in online media can’t be overstated,” Carl Steadman, co-founder of early web magazine Suck—“an irreverent online daily”—told TIME in October 1996. “When I can cheerfully scroll past the cyberpundit of the moment’s latest exposé to the discussion area that features the opinions of true experts like myself and my hometown’s own Joe Bob, I’ll feel I’ve finally broken free.”

24. On using the internet for piracy

“As the Internet’s capacity for data transmission increases and multimedia technology improves, it will become as easy to copy music, photos and movies as it is to copy text now,” Steven D. Lavine wrote to The New York Times in March 1996. “How can government hope to prevent copyright infringement without encroaching upon individual privacy rights? It cannot. Content providers must accept the loss of those customers willing to pirate content and concentrate on packaging their products with enough value added so that wealthier customers remain willing to pay.”

25. On CD-ROMs

“CD-ROMs have become so popular that virtually all new desktop computers are shipped with the ability to use them. But by the turn of the century, CD-ROMs could themselves become unused relics, just like those old 5¼-inch floppies,” William Casey wrote in the July 22, 1996 issue of the Washington Post. “And why? The big ol’ Internet, as you might expect.”

26. On an extremely connected world

“Just wait, says Microsoft chief technologist Nathan Myhrvold. Even your hot-water heater will become computerized and hooked to the Net,” Kevin Maney wrote in USA Today in November 1996. Myhrvold told Maney, “Anything that can be networked will be networked.”

27. On communicating on the internet

“How many times have you received a message on paper and wished you could send quick reply back to the sender?” Frank Vizard wrote in Popular Science’s December 1996 issue. “Motorola’s new PageWriter two-way pager lets you do exactly that—no need to connect to a telephone or computer as previous two-way pagers have required. To send a message, all you do is unfold a miniature keyboard and type in your text. [...] Just how big demand for the device will be remains to be seen.”

28. On the growth of the internet

“The Internet as we know it now will be quaint,” Timothy Logue, “a space and telecommunications analyst with Coudert Brothers in Washington,” told Satellite Communications in September 1996. “The Citizen’s Band radio phase died out, and the Internet is kind of in that CB radio state. It will evolve and mature in a couple of ways. It’ll be a global electronic city, with slum areas and red light districts, but it’ll also have a central business district.”

29. On the internet changing the world

We’ll leave you with a quote from Bill Gates, made in the September 16, 1996 issue of TIME: “The Internet is a revolution in communications that will change the world significantly. The Internet opens a whole new way to communicate with your friends and find and share information of all types. Microsoft is betting that the Internet will continue to grow in popularity until it is as mainstream as the telephone is today.”