1949: ‘The Second Sex’ is published
In 1949, French essayist, political theorist, and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir published her most famous and influential work on the oppression of women. De Beauvoir attempted to explain why women are oppressed in society and argued that political advancements like the right to vote meant nothing to women who don't have the means to support themselves in other ways. Its English translation (published in 1953) was long considered deeply flawed, but that didn't stop the work from becoming required reading for feminists and scholars around the world.
1950: First girl plays Little League baseball
At 13, Kay Johnston wanted nothing more than to play Little League baseball. So she decided to sign up as a boy named Tubby. Even after revealing her identity, she played a successful season as a member of a team. After that year, the “Tubby Rule” was put into place, barring girls from playing Little League under any circumstances. The rule was abolished in 1974, and since then, 18 girls have made it all the way to the Little League World Series.
[Pictured: A Little League baseball player sliding into home base safe.]
1951: Rosalind Franklin makes crucial DNA discoveries
James Watson and Francis Crick were credited with the discovery of DNA's double-helix structure, which won them a Nobel Prize in 1962, but they would not have been able to do so without the help of a pioneering female scientist. Rosalind Franklin's expertise in X-ray diffraction techniques allowed her to take clear pictures of DNA's structure. A male colleague who often disagreed with Franklin gave her photographs to Watson and Crick, and they formed the basis of their eventual model. Franklin never knew her work had been so integral to their discovery, as she died in 1958.
1952: Grace Hopper revolutionizes computers
A trailblazer throughout her life, mathematician and U.S. Navy Admiral Grace Hopper revolutionized the way we use computers. After working on the Mark I computer during World War II, she moved into private industry, where she and her team developed the compiler. This device allowed software developers to write code in humanlike language—instead of 1s and 0s—and was a precursor to the widely used COBOL programming language.
1953: First woman breaks the sound barrier
Jacqueline Cochran worked her way out of poverty to become one of the most successful female aviators of the 20th century. After obtaining her pilot's license in three weeks while working as a cosmetics saleswoman, she took the aviation world by storm and set record after record. Her most notable feat might be flying faster than the speed of sound (761.2 miles per hour), a speed she later doubled in 1964.
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1954: UN Convention on the Political Rights of Women goes into force
The Convention on the Political Rights of Women became the first piece of international law explicitly formed to protect and expand women's political rights. A total of 122 United Nations member states and the state of Palestine have since signed onto the document, parts of which formed the basis of later, more comprehensive treaties protecting women's rights.
1955: Rosa Parks sparks Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks' decision not to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus changed the course of American history. The same day Parks was convicted of violating segregation laws, black community leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., organized a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. It would not end until the Supreme Court ruled bus segregation laws were unconstitutional. Parks subsequently became a symbol of the civil rights movement and continued her work as an activist against inequality.
1956: Women march on Pretoria
In the 1950s, South Africa's government passed new laws to limit the movement of African women in the country, with the goal of further entrenching the deep racial separation, also known as apartheid. Thousands of women from across South Africa marched on the capital city in protest of these laws, including several who would later become key figures in the apartheid resistance movement. When the prime minister wouldn't meet with them, the women stood in complete silence for 30 minutes before singing songs of protest and female empowerment.
[Pictured: A group of South Africans demonstrates in Pretoria, South Africa.]
1957: First television show built around a female protagonist airs
“Decoy: Police Woman” might be an all-but-forgotten relic from the early days of television, but it was groundbreaking as the first show to feature a female police officer and a female protagonist. If not for “Decoy,” the powerful female characters in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Law and Order” might not exist. Shot on location in New York (another first), Casey Jones went undercover as a ballerina, model, and other aliases to catch criminals, doing her job without any discrimination from her male colleagues.
1958: First woman wins multiple Grammys
Ella Fitzgerald became a household name when she made her debut on the stage of New York's famous Apollo Theater in 1934. “The First Lady of Song” went on to become a jazz icon, and at the first Grammy Awards, she took home Best Female Vocal Performance and Best Individual Jazz Performance. She'd go on to win 13 awards over her 40-year career, capping off her Grammy success by becoming the first woman to win a Lifetime Achievement award.
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