Paula Hawkins of Florida, a Republican, becomes the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate without following her husband or father in the job.

Nigerian geophysicist Deborah Ajakaiye became the first woman in any West African country to be appointed a full professor of physics. Over the course of her scientific career, she became the first female Fellow elected to the Nigerian Academy of Science and the first female dean of science in Nigeria.

Japanese geochemist Katsuko Saruhashi became the first woman elected to the Science Council of Japan


Sandra Day O’Connor becomes first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court rules that excluding women from the draft is constitutional. In a separate decision, the high court overturns state laws designating a husband “head and master” with unilateral control of property owned jointly with his wife.

In a break with tradition, Lady Diana Spencer deletes the vow to “obey” her husband as she marries Prince Charles.


The ERA falls short of ratification.


Dr. Sally K. Ride becomes the first American woman to be sent into space.

Brazilian agronomist Johanna Döbereiner became a founding Fellow of the World Academy of Sciences

American cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of genetic transposition; she was the first woman to receive that prize without sharing it, and the first American woman to receive any unshared Nobel Prize.

Geologist Sudipta Sengupta and marine biologist Aditi Pant became the first Indian women to visit the Antarctic.


Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first woman to be nominated to be vice president on a major party ticket.

U.S. Supreme Court bans sex discrimination in membership for onetime all-male groups like the Jaycees, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.

The state of Mississippi belatedly ratifies the 19th Amendment, granting women the vote.

Hishon v. King and Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69 (1984): The U.S. Supreme Court rules that law firms may not discriminate on the basis of sex in promoting lawyers to partnership positions.


EMILY’s List is founded, its mission to elect Democratic, pro-abortion rights women to office.

After identifying HIV as the cause of AIDS, Chinese-American virologist Flossie Wong-Staal became the first scientist to clone and genetically map the HIV virus, enabling the development of the first HIV blood screening tests.


Italian neurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shared with Stanley Cohen, “for their discoveries of growth factors”.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that a work environment can be declared hostile or abusive because of discrimination based on sex, an important tool in sexual harassment cases.


Johnson v. Santa Clara County, 480 U.S. 616 (1987): The U.S. Supreme Court rules that it is permissible to take sex and race into account in employment decisions even where there is no proven history of discrimination but when evidence of a manifest imbalance exists in the number of women or minorities holding the position in question.


American scientist and inventor Patricia Bath (born 1942) became the first African-American to patent a medical device, namely the Laserphaco Probe for improving the use of lasers to remove cataracts.

American biochemist and pharmacologist Gertrude B. Elion received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with James W. Black and George H. Hitchings “for their discoveries of important principles for drug treatment”


The Supreme Court affirms the right of states to deny public funding for abortions and to prohibit public hospitals from performing abortions.


Doris Malkin Curtis became the first woman president of the Geological Society of America.

Indian geologist Sudipta Sengupta became the first woman scientist to receive the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Award in the Earth Sciences category.


The Year of the Woman: Following 1991 hearings in which lawyer Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, record numbers of women are elected to Congress, with four women winning Senate elections and two dozen women elected to first terms in the House.

In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey, the Supreme Court upholds Roe v Wade but allows states to impose restrictions such as a waiting period and parental consent for minors seeking abortions.

Edith Flanigen became the first woman awarded the Perkin Medal (widely considered the highest honor in American industrial chemistry) for her outstanding achievements in applied chemistry. The medal especially recognized her syntheses of aluminophosphate and silicoaluminophosphate molecular sieves as new classes of materials.


Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993) The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the victim did not need to show that she suffered physical or serious psychological injury as a result of sexual harassment.


The Violence Against Women Act funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence and allows women to seek civil rights remedies for gender-related crimes. Six years later, the Supreme Court invalidates those portions of the law permitting victims of rape, domestic violence, etc. to sue their attackers in federal court.

Congress adopts the Gender Equity in Education Act to train teachers in gender equity, promote math and science learning by girls, counsel pregnant teens, and prevent sexual harassment.


German biologist Christiane Nüsslein- Volhard received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shared with Edward B. Lewis and Eric F. Wieschaus, “for their discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development”.

Israeli-Canadian mathematical biologist Leah Keshet became the first woman president of the international Society for Mathematical Biology.


United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996), affirms that the male-only admissions policy of the state-supported Virginia Military Institute violates the Fourteenth Amendment.


Madeleine Albright become the first female secretary of state.

Elaborating on Title IX, the Supreme Court rules that college athletics programs must actively involve roughly equal numbers of men and women to qualify for federal support.

Chilean astronomer María Teresa Ruiz discovered Kelu 1, one of the first observed brown dwarves. In recognition of her discovery, she became the first woman to receive the Chilean National Prize for Exact Sciences.

Late 1990's

Ethiopian-American chemist Sossina M. Haile developed the first solid acid fuel cell.


Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998) and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 742 (1998): The Supreme Court balances employee and employer rights. It rules that employers are liable for sexual harassment even in instances when a supervisor’s threats are not carried out. But the employer can defend itself by showing that it took steps to prevent or promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior and the employee did not take advantage of available opportunities to stop the behavior or complain of the behavior.