22 Influential Women You Probably Didn't Learn About in School

Victoria Woodhull, Althea Gibson, Hypatia
Victoria Woodhull, Althea Gibson, Hypatia / Victoria Woodhull, Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images // Althea Gibson, AFP/AFP via Getty Images // Hypatia, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
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13. Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson
Althea Gibson / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

Tennis star Althea Gibson has a lot of firsts next to her name. Not only was she the first Black competitor in the U.S. National Championships in 1950, but she went on to become the first Black player to win the French Open, the U.S. Open, and Wimbledon. She was also the first Black athlete to be named the Associated Press’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1957, and the first Black woman to play golf with the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1963.

Gibson’s barrier-breaking sports career garnered her comparisons to Jackie Robinson, and she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971. When Venus Williams was named the world’s top-ranked tennis player in 2002—making her the first Black person to achieve the distinction—she shouted out Gibson, who played before official world rankings were part of the sport. “It would be foolish to forget Althea Gibson,” Williams said. “She was the first.”