It’s empowering to do a task, or take on a project, that seems overwhelming. If you succeed, you feel absolutely terrific. That’s why I’ve decided to write about “Women Who Are Firsts.” I’ve listed nine here – all are different – but they have one unifying theme: they did it BEFORE ANYONE ELSE.
THE FIRST WOMAN TO CLIMB MOUNT EVEREST
Junko Tabei, the first woman to climb the world’s highest peak, reached the 29,000-foot summit of Mount Everest in 1975. She was 35 at the time. In 1992, this Japanese climber conquered the so-called “Seven Summits” – becoming the first woman to scale the highest mountains on seven continents, which are: Kilimanjaro, Denali, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Carstensz Pyramid, Vinson and Everest. Tabei died this year at the age of 77.
FIRST WOMAN TO WIN AN OSCAR FOR BEST DIRECTOR
In 2010, Kathryn Ann Bigelow became the first female director to win an Oscar for her film, The Hurt Locker at the 82nd Academy Awards. In 2012 she also directed a superb action thriller war film Zero Dark Thirty. She was the fourth woman (and the second American) in the history of the Oscars to be nominated for this award. She was born on November 27, 1951 in San Carlos, California and has a MFA from Columbia University.
THE FIRST AMERICAN WOMAN TO BECOME AN ASTRONAUT
Sally Ride was the first American woman to fly in space on June 18, 1983. She was an astronaut on a space shuttle mission where her job was to work a robotic arm that helped put satellites into space. She stopped working for NASA in 1987 and taught at the University of California. Until her death on July 2012, she continued to help female students study science and math. She was born on May 26, 1951 and went to Stanford University where she earned a degree in physics.
THE FIRST TO WIN AN OSCAR, EMMY, GRAMMY AND A TONY
Rita Moreno, born in 1931, was the first Latin American woman to win all four major annual American entertainment awards. She won an Oscar for “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” for West Side Story in 1961. Then in 1977 and 1978, she won an Emmy for her appearance in The Muppet Show and a second one for The Rockford Files. In 1972 she picked up a Grammy for “Best Recording for Children” and, in 1975, she won a Tony for “Best Featured or Supporting Actress in a Play” for her performance in The Ritz.
THE FIRST WOMAN TO FLY SOLO ACROSS THE ATLANTIC
Female aviator, Amelia Earhart (born on July 24, 1897) completed the first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean on May 21, 1932. She was the first pilot to repeat this feat since Charles Lindbergh did it five years before. She landed her plane in Ireland after flying across the North Atlantic from Newfoundland in just under 15 hours. In 1937, at the age of 39, she attempted to fly around the world, but her plane disappeared in the South Pacific. She was never heard from again.
THE FIRST FEMALE TO WIN THREE GOLD IN TRACK & FIELD
Wilma Rudolph (nickname “Skeeter” for her famous speed) was born on June 23, 1940 (the 20th of 22 children) in Tennessee. She was the first American woman to win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics held in Rome, Italy. She was a sickly child who had to wear a brace on her left leg. “My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” She died on November 12, 1994 following a battle with brain cancer.
FIRST TO WIN A TONY FOR BEST DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL
Julie Taymor, born in 1952, is the first female to win a Tony for “Best Director of a Musical.” She is a director of theatre and film and is best known for directing the stage musical The Lion King. She was born in Newton, Massachusetts where, at the age of seven, she was already drawing her sister into creating stage performances of children’s stories for their parents. She graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio with a Phi Beta Kappa.
THE FIRST TO EARN A PhD IN COMPUTER SCIENCE AT MIT
Irene Greif attended Hunter College High School before earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees from MIT. In 1975, Greif became the first woman to earn a PhD in computer science from MIT. From 1977 to 1987 she was a professor at MIT and then went to work at IBM. Greif and her husband live in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. She has a son and daughter as well as two stepchildren.
FIRST BLACK FEMALE TO WIN AN OSCAR FOR BEST ACTRESS
At the Academy Awards in 2001, Halle Berry (born on August 14, 1966 in Cleveland) made history when she became the first black actress to receive an Oscar for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” for her performance in the Monster’s Ball. In 2016, her hopes for her fellow black actresses took a real hit. After 15 years, she was still the only black actress to win an Oscar.
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This is the first thing I saw when perusing the 50th anniversary issue of the Smithsonian magazine for April 2020. This eye-opening 10-page article (with spectacular photos) is titled, “The Ship in the Ice” and concerns a topic we’ve all been hearing about for years, e.g., global warming.
The pandemic this year has affected all of us in many ways. Two things that stand out in my mind: people definitely need people (to paraphrase the song “People” sung by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl). The phone, email, computer, TV and all the other digital creations we use DO NOT take the place of human interaction. We all need to see and talk to each other. That said we have also learned that we can work at home very efficiently and handle our normal workload if necessary. Never commute again? I don’t think that will happen, but perhaps we’ll find a happy medium – time will tell.
I have often found that when a person achieves incredible success – after a long struggle – the back-story is almost as fascinating as the achievement itself. That’s why I was interested in, yet another, Andy Warhol write-up that appeared in the May 2020 issue of the Smithsonian magazine.
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