Black women have laid the blueprint and simultaneously constructed the tools needed to execute the vision and get sh*t done. At America’s core, there is an unspoken acknowledgment of the many ways Black women have saved this country throughout history yet their praises are infrequently sung. Whether fighting on the frontline for the right to live a life free of oppression or inventing 3-D illusion that we emulate and use for our enjoyment today, we know that there is no progress without their vision and work. Here’s a list of Black women who have changed the game for us all, but in many ways their accomplishments were overlooked. It will make you think, “damn, a Black woman did that, too?” Yes. She did.
Charlotte Forten, First African American Hired To Teach in America
August 17, 1837 - July 23, 1914
After becoming Salem State’s first African American graduate, Charlotte Forten made history again as the first Black person hired to teach in Salem, Massachusetts. She continued working as an educator during the American Civil War, most notably teaching freedmen in South Carolina.Source: Fotosearch / Archive Photos / Getty Images
Dr. Alexa Canady, First African American Woman Neurosurgeon
November 7, 1950 -
In 1975, Dr. Alexa Canady was the first woman and first African American to be accepted as a surgical intern at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Six years later Dr. Canady became the first African-American Woman Neurosurgeon.
Marie Van Brittan Brown, Invented the Modern-Day Home Security System
October 30, 1922 - February 2, 1999
Inspired by the desire to keep her people safe, Marie Van Brittan Brown created an early version of the modern home security system, which consisted of multiple peepholes, a camera, monitors, and a two-way microphone. Additionally, Brown is credited with inventing the first closed circuit television.Source: Wikimedia
Mary Jane Patterson, First African American Woman to Earn a Bachelor's Degree
September 12, 1840 - September 24, 1894
Mary Jane Patterson made history as the first Black woman to obtain a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College. In 1871, Patterson became the first African American principal of the newly-established Preparatory High School for Negroes in Washington, D.C., which is now known as Dunbar High School.Source: Public Domain Image
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, Invented the Modern Day Menstrual Pad
May 17, 1912 - January 13, 2006
With an innovative spirit passed down through her family—father invented a portable clothes presser— Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner created what we now know as the menstrual pad. However, due to racial discrimination, her application for the patent for the sanitary belt (1957) was prevented for thirty years.
Valerie Thomas, Invented and Patented the 3D Transmitter
February 8, 1943 -
After initially identifying that concave mirrors can create the illusion of 3-dimensional objects as a Data and Mathematical Analyst at NASA, Valerie Thomas created and patented a 3-dimensional illusion transmitter. It isn't her only innovation. The Morgan State University alum holds patents on several other inventions, has won countless awards and serves as mentor, via several initiatives, in the STEM community.Source: Landsat Science
Osceola Macarthy Adams, First African American Actress on Broadway
June 13, 1890 – November 20, 1983
Osceola Macarthy Adams is one of Broadway’s first Black actresses. She launched the theatrical careers of well-known actors such as Sidney Portier and Harry Belafonte. Adams was also a founding member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated in 1913.
Andrea Jenkins, First African American Trans Woman Elected to Public Office
In 2018, Andrea Jenkins became the first black openly transgender woman elected to public office in the United States. She serves on the Minneapolis City Council and has been actively fighting for justice against inequities faced by all Black people.Source: Brooke Ross
The 6888th Battalion, The Only All African American Female Battalion Overseas During World War II
Nicknamed “Six Triple Eight,” the 6888th Battalion was a famed unit led by Major Charity Adams that solely consisted of Black women who delivered mail to WWII troops across Great Britain.Source: National Archives
Amelia Boynton Robinson, First African American Woman to Run for Congress in Alabama
August 18, 1911 – August 26, 2015
A civil rights organizer who helped with the formation of the 1965 March on Selma, Amelia Boynton Robinson was the first Black woman to run for Congress in Alabama while bringing distinct awareness to voter discrimination.
Tracey Norman, First African American Trans Woman Fashion Model in the United States
Tracey Norman is the first African American trans woman in the United States to gain prominence as an international model. Norman's professional feats include appearances in magazines such as Essence and Vogue, and a famed Clairol campaign. Her story has loosely inspired “Angel” played by Indya Moore on FX’s “Pose.”
Blake Bolden, First African American Woman to Play Professional Hockey
March 10, 1991 -
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Blake Bolden is the first African American to be drafted in the first round of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the first African American Woman to compete in the National Women’s Hockey League.Source: Blake Bolden
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Savannah M. Taylor is a native of Springfield, MA, and a graduate of Syracuse University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies with a minor in Communication & Rhetorical Studies. Some of her many passions include storytelling through various mediums and bringing awareness to Black history and culture through the advocacy of the Black diasporic community. These passions led her to start her own initiative called The Silhouette Brand, a platform to provide access to resources, opportunity, and exposure for people across the African diaspora.