First Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest have secured a place in history by becoming the first women to complete the Army’s grueling Ranger School.
“I was thinking really of future generations of women that I would like them to have that opportunity so I had that pressure on myself,” 26-year-old Griest said. “And not letting people down that I knew believed in me, people that were supporting me.”
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As the women graduate Friday at Fort Benning – alongside 94 male soldiers who also completed the course – here’s a look back at other women who have made historic “firsts” in recent decades.
1977: Janet Guthrie, an aerospace engineer, is the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. She was forced out by mechanical difficulties in 1977 but finished in ninth place in 1978. Her racing helmet and suit are now in the Smithsonian Institution.
Her history-making path was marred by sexist comments from fellow drivers, track officials, even the media. “People said she would give out physically at high speed, that she couldn't make it 500 miles, that she couldn't race at certain times of the month,” Humpy Wheeler, former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, told ESPN. “I'm not just talking about racers and fans. I'm talking about sportswriters. Everyone likes to do revisionist history now and say, 'Oh well, I supported her all along' or 'It wasn't as bad as she likes to say it was,' but I'm telling you that it was. It was probably worse than she says.”
1981: Sandra Day O'Connor becomes the first female justice on the Supreme Court. She retired in 2006.
In a 2013 interview with the Harvard Business Review, she was asked what advice she would give women trying to advance in male-dominated fields.
“The situation is positive,” she said, “and women can be hired for good positions, so it’s a question of finding the right fit. When I was first looking for work, they just weren’t hiring women, period. Today as a woman with talent and interest and energy, you ought to be optimistic.”
1983: Sally Ride becomes the first American woman sent into space with a flight aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. She was 61 when she died in 2012 after a 17-month fight against pancreatic cancer.
"Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless,” read a statement on the website of Sally Ride Science, the company she started to get students, primarily young women and girls, interested in science, math and technology.
1985: Wilma Mankiller becomes the first woman principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. After leaving office she kept up her activist work on behalf of Native Americans and women, for which she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
When she died in 2010 at the age of 64, President Obama said: “As the Cherokee Nation's first female chief, she transformed the nation-to-nation relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the federal government, and served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country and across America. Her legacy will continue to encourage and motivate all who carry on her work.”
1990: Dr. Antonia Novello is sworn in as U.S. Surgeon General. She is the first female and first Hispanic Surgeon General. During her tenure she focused on the health of women, young people and minorities. One of her most visible campaigns was launched against tobacco companies that aimed their advertising at children, especially ads featuring the cartoon character Joe Camel.
1992: Canadian Manon Rheaume is the first women to play in an NHL game – and first woman to play in any major men’s sports leagues in the United States. She was the starting goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a preseason exhibition game. Though she never played in a regular season game, she led the Canadian women’s national team to a silver medal in the 1998 Olympics.
The team paid homage to her 20 years after her barrier-busting game.
“Though Rheaume would never see another minute of NHL action – and despite the fact she was brought in largely as a publicity stunt – her presence at Lightning training camp in 1992 provided a massive boost to women's hockey and inspired a generation of girls to pick up the sport, a growth that has continued unabated for the past 20 years,” the team noted.
She went on to found the Manon Rheaume Foundation to encourage girls to participate in sports.
1999: Nancy Ruth Mace graduates from the Citadel, the formerly all-male military school in South Carolina. She is the first female graduate.
2006: When Effa Manley became the first woman elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the New York Times described her as “a savvy businesswoman whose gravestone reads ‘She Loved Baseball.’”
Manley co-owned the Newark Eagles of the Negro leagues with her husband, Abe. She handled the daily business of the team, but also fought for better working conditions for the Eagles players, who won the Negro leagues World Series in 1946.
2007: Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) becomes the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The same year, Drew Gilpin Faust becomes the first female president of Harvard University in the school’s 371-year history. Her alma mater, Bryn Mawr, hailed her for shattering one of “America’s oldest glass ceilings.”
2008: A presidential campaign brings about two notable firsts for women. With a win in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton becomes the first women in the United States to win a presidential primary.
And, Alaska governor Sarah Palin becomes the first woman to run for vice president with the Republican presidential candidate.
2009: On Feb. 9, when first officer Stephanie Grant replaced a crew member who called in sick, history was made: The first African-American female flight crew took a historic flight on Atlantic Southeast Airlines from Atlanta to Nashville. The captain, first officer and two flight attendants were all women.
2010: Kathryn Bigelow becomes the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director. She won for “The Hurt Locker,” a movie about the Iraq War. Side note: She beat out her ex-husband, “Avatar” director James Cameron, for the Oscar.
2014: Janet Yellen becomes the first female chairman in the 100-year history of the Federal Reserve.
2015: Hired by the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant coaching intern during training camp and preseason, Jennifer Welter becomes the first female coach in the NFL.