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Milestones in women's history from the year you were born

  • 1989: First woman receives IBM fellowship

    IBM offered Frances E. Allen a job fresh out of grad school and she spent years developing more efficient coding languages. After decades of work, she was the first woman to receive an IBM fellowship, a prestigious program honoring the company's best employees. Her gifts as a computer programmer won her recognition throughout her career; she was also the first woman to win the Turing Award in 2006, the computer science equivalent of a Nobel Prize.

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  • 1990: First female president of the Americas is elected

    Violeta Chamorro's history-making term as the first democratically elected female president of the Americas might not be the most interesting aspect about her life. Living in war-torn Nicaragua, Chamorro took over a newspaper opposed to the government and used the power of the press to call for peace and democracy. By 1988, she was a prominent opposition leader and she easily won the presidency at the conclusion of a war which she is credited with helping to end.

  • 1991: Anita Hill testifies before the Senate

    Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court was controversial before Anita Hill came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, as many wondered if he was qualified for the job. But Hill's testimony about Thomas' behavior while she was his assistant changed the tone of the hearings, and her tense questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee—all white men—that October proved to be a historic moment. Thomas was still confirmed, but Hill inspired more women to run for office the next year, sparked new conversations about sexual harassment, and is sometimes credited with starting third-wave feminism.

  • 1992: Junko Tabei finishes climbing the Seven Summits

    Japanese climber Junko Tabei became the first woman to summit Mount Everest in 1975 as part of an all-female team of climbers, but even climbing the world's tallest mountain couldn't sate her desire for adventure. In 1992, she reached the top of Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia and became the first woman to reach the top of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on every continent. Before her death in 2016, she climbed the highest peaks in 79 countries and blazed trails for other women along the way.

  • 1993: Family Medical Leave Act becomes law

    The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to certain employees dealing with particular medical situations and guarantees their job will be there upon return. This was a huge win for working moms, who previously had no guarantee that they'd be able to take time off to recover after giving birth. Still, many women can't afford to take three months off work without pay, and the U.S. remains one of the only countries in the world that doesn't give new parents paid family leave.

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  • 1994: Violence Against Women Act passes

    The Violence Against Women Act was a landmark bill that gave new attention to issues faced by women like stalking, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault. The bill created the Office on Violence Against Women, administered grant programs to state and local governments to open new shelters and information centers, and required the government to study these issues. It's been reauthorized three times, but lapsed during the 2018–2019 government shutdown.

  • 1995: Fourth World Conference on Women commences

    Then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton gave her famous “women's rights are human rights” speech at this United Nations conference, which saw tens of thousands of activists convene in Beijing, China, to discuss issues of women's rights. The conference produced the Beijing Declaration, reaffirming commitments to women's rights and laying out new plans of action for achieving them that still serve as a source of guidance for leaders and activists.

  • 1996: United States v. Virginia is decided

    Virginia Military Institute was an exclusively male college until it was sued by the federal government, which argued that its gender-exclusive admissions policy was unconstitutional. The school proposed that, rather than letting women enter, it would establish a separate, all-female school instead. The court disagreed in a 7-1 decision—Clarence Thomas sat the case out, as his son was a student at VMI—arguing that the school didn't show "exceedingly persuasive justification" for the policy and wouldn't offer women in the new school the same opportunities as men.

  • 1997: First female secretary of state joins Cabinet

    Before Madeleine Albright was appointed secretary of state in 1997 by the Clinton administration, she worked on President Jimmy Carter's National Security Council, taught foreign affairs at Georgetown, and spent several successful years as the U.S. representative to the United Nations. With this experience under her belt, Albright pursued an active foreign policy, visiting North Korea, encouraging sanctions against Iran, and more. Her term ended once George W. Bush was elected president, but she remained enmeshed in politics and foreign policy debates.

  • 1998: Senegalese mothers end female circumcision in their villages

    Procedures that require men to be circumcised at birth are more familiar in the U.S., but some cultures require young girls to undergo a similar treatment in order to enter adulthood. A controversial and often misunderstood practice, female genital cutting became a topic of debate in the international rights community in the late 1990s. It was common in the small Senegalese village of Malicounda Bambara until a group of mothers decided to put an end to the practice. They educated others on the harm female circumcision caused young girls, and the village and those around Malicounda Bambara decided to abandon the practice, inspiring 5,000 other villages in the country to do the same.

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