Milestones in women's history from the year you were born
The feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s reminded the world that women have always played important historical roles, despite often being overlooked. But even in the 21st century, many popular history books are written by and about men—usually covering war heroes, generals, and the country's founding fathers. Studies of U.S. history and social studies classes also find that state education standards focus on men and gloss over the roles of women outside of the home. Though many people today proudly proclaim to be feminists, women around the world are still paid less for the same work, live in fear of physical violence and sexual assault, and lack rights and representation across industries.
Women’s History Month in March and the commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8 allow us to celebrate the strides women have made across social, economic, political, and cultural spectrums. Observing milestones in women's history also reminds us of the steps still required to achieve true gender equality, Stacker dug through historical records and selected the most inspirational or important moments in women’s history every year from 1919 to 2019.
Women have left marks on everything from entertainment and music to space exploration, athletics, and technology. Each passing year and new milestone makes it clear both how recent this history-making is in relation to the rest of the country, as well as how far we still need to go. The resulting timeline shows that women are constantly making history worthy of best-selling biographies and classroom textbooks; someone just needs to write about them.
Scroll through to find out when women in the U.S. and around the world won rights, the names of women who shattered the glass ceiling, and which country’s women banded together to end a civil war.
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1919: National Women's Party sparks ‘Watchfires of Freedom’
Members of Congress introduced a constitutional amendment enshrining women's right to vote in 1878, but it would take decades of protest for it to become the law of the land. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson started supporting women's suffrage, but members of the National Women's Party thought he wasn't using his influence to sway the last two senators needed for an amendment to pass. In January 1919, activists starting burning Wilson's speeches outside public buildings, implying he was a hypocrite for not doing more. The amendment passed a few months later.
1920: The 19th Amendment becomes law
After the 19th Amendment passed through Congress, it was turned over to the states; two-thirds (or 36) had to ratify the amendment before it could become law. Seven states rejected the amendment outright. The decisive vote came from Tennessee after a young representative's mother convinced him to vote in support of suffrage, breaking a tie in that state's legislature. The amendment was certified on Aug. 26, 1920, and women in every state could vote in elections that November.
1921: Edith Wharton wins the Pulitzer Prize
In 1921, Edith Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (then called the Novel Prize), becoming the first woman in the award's four-year history to do so. She was honored for her 12th novel, “The Age of Innocence,” which explores the upper-class 1870s New York society in which Wharton grew up. Her win was controversial, but not because of her gender; the committee originally decided to give the prize to the novel, “Main Street,” a decision that was changed for political reasons.
1922: First woman serves in the Senate
The first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate held her role for only two days. Rebecca Ann Felton of Georgia was appointed to fill a vacancy and served from Nov. 21–21, 1922. Her short appointment was largely ceremonial, honoring her long career in journalism and state politics. It would take another decade before another woman was elected to a Senate seat.
1923: Equal Rights Amendment is first proposed
Even after women won the right to vote, Alice Paul—a women's rights activist and founder of the National Woman's Party—realized the U.S. still had a long way to go before it reached true equality. She fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, which, if added to the Constitution, would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. The amendment was proposed in every Congress from 1923 to 1972 when it finally passed, but it fell three states short of being officially added to the Constitution.
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1924: First woman diplomat gets to work
Revolutionary Marxist Alexandra Kollontai joined the new Russian government formed after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution as the People's Commissar of Social Welfare. In that capacity, she founded a Women's Department that fought to improve the lives of women in the Soviet Union. After a few years, she was asked to tackle diplomatic work, and in 1924, Kollontai was promoted to second-in-command of the Soviet Union's Norwegian embassy, which officially added her to the diplomatic corps. She continued working in Sweden, Finland, and Mexico until her retirement in the 1940s.
1925: Nellie Tayloe Ross becomes the first woman governor in the U.S.
One month after her husband, Gov. William B. Ross, died of appendicitis, Nellie Tayloe Ross was elected to fill his seat. Through her victory, Wyoming, the first state to give women the right to vote, became the first to elect a woman to a state's highest office. Ross was inaugurated in January 1925, but lost reelection in 1926. She had a long career in politics after her term, and remains the only woman governor in Wyoming's history.
1926: Gertrude Ederle swims the English Channel
Gertrude “Queen of the Waves” Ederle did what only five men had done before her when she swam the 35-mile length of the English Channel on Aug. 6, 1926. An Olympic gold medalist, Erdele first attempted the swim between England and France in 1925, but she didn't let her failure prevent a second try. Covered in grease and wearing a more practical self-designed suit, Erdele beat the men's record by over two hours, at a time when women's sports were just coming into the spotlight.
1927: Women petition to become ‘persons’ in Canada
Five Canadian women's rights activists, dubbed the “Famous Five,” brought a case before the country's Supreme Court in 1927 arguing that women had the right to be appointed to the Senate. In 1928, the Court ruled that women were not considered “persons” according to the Canadian constitution and therefore ineligible for Senate seats. An appeal reversed the ruling, opening up new opportunities for women in Canada.
1928: Britain's Equal Franchise Act becomes law
British women technically won the right to vote before Americans, but it took 10 years for them to achieve the same voting rights men already had. The 1918 Representation of the People Act allowed all men over 21 to vote, but only female householders or those married to householders, female university grads over 21, or women over 30 could vote. The Equal Franchise Act of 1928 removed all those restrictions; any British citizen over 21 was now free to vote.
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