Emily Edson Briggs

One of the First Women Newspaper Correspondents in Washington

Emily Edson Briggs was a female newspaper reporter in the capital city. She was given access to the halls of Congress during the mid-1800s, which allowed her to describe the people and events there as a social commentator. She was one of the first women to acquire a national reputation in the field of journalism.

Emily Pomona Edson was born September 14, 1830 in Burton, Ohio but moved with her family to Chicago in 1840. She received an adequate education by attending local schools and taught briefly. In 1854, Emily married John Briggs.

In 1861, John Briggs was hired as an assistant clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives, and he wrote about political trends as well. Emily often accompanied him to the Lincoln White House where she became an ardent observer of the social and political happenings surrounding the First Couple.

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First Women in Business

Business Women in the Early United States

Women have always struggled with the challenges presented by socially-determined gender roles, which have both created opportunities for women’s advancement and limited their growth as professionals.

Image: Eliza Lucas Pinckney

Eliza Lucas Pinckney
Business: Agriculture
Eliza Lucas (1722-1793) was born in Antigua, West Indies and grew up at one of her family’s sugarcane plantations on the island. Her parents, Lt. Colonel George Lucas and his wife Ann sent all their children to London to be educated. Eliza studied French and music, but her favorite subject was botany.

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Lucy Stone

Pioneer Women’s Rights Activist

Lucy Stone spoke out against slavery and for women’s rights at a time when it was not popular for women to speak in public, and she was the first woman to keep her maiden name after she was married. Her name is often overlooked in the history of the fight for women’s suffrage, but this trailblazer achieved several firsts for women, particularly in Massachusetts.

The Woman Question
In 1836, at age eighteen, Lucy Stone began noticing newspaper reports of a controversy that some referred to as the woman question. What was woman’s proper role in society? Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison asked to women to circulate antislavery petitions and send the signatures to Congress. Many women responded, which started a debate over whether women were entitled to a political voice.

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Meta Brevoort

First American Woman to Climb the Matterhorn

Meta (Marguerite Claudia) Brevoort was born November 8, 1825 in New York. She spent her early years in a Paris convent school. She was an American mountain climber who waited until she was about 40 to become a mountaineer. With her nephew and and dog Tschingel, she was the first climber to ascend several peaks in the Dauphine Alps of southeastern France, an unexplored region at that time. She was one of a small band of women who blazed a trail in the Alps for climbers who came after her.

Image: The Tschingel Company in 1874
Left to right: Christian Almer, Ulrich Almer, Meta Brevoort with the dog Tschingel and her nephew William Coolidge

Meta Brevoort began mountain climbing at the age of forty, in the summer of 1865 she brought her nephew William Augustus Brevoort Coolidge (1850-1926) from his home in New York to Europe and introduced him to Alpine climbing. They climbed together for more than ten seasons. In Switzerland, they met alpine-guide Christian Almer and adopted him as their personal guide. Brevoort and Coolidge began winter mountaineering, which was not very pleasant, but they became the first people to ascend the Wetterhorn and other nearby peaks.

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Romantic Friendship

Women Living Happily With Women

A romantic friendship is a very close but non-sexual relationship between same-sex friends who often shared a degree of physical closeness like kissing, hugging, holding hands, and sharing a bed. Such friendships offered emotional support and companionship in a society where women had few freedoms. Many of these women later left the romantic friendship and married men.

Women in romantic friendships usually lived together, in a world where women had few choices as to where they must live. As long as they remained single and had no other arrangements, they were forced to live with a male family member – father, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin. As they aged, they were often shuttled from household to household, never feeling welcome anywhere.

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Eliza Greatorex

Painter, Illustrator and Pen and Ink Artist

Eliza Greatorex was a noted painter of landscapes and cityscapes; she was especially known for her pen and ink drawings of New York and European scenes. She was the first woman elected to the National Academy of Design, one of America’s first women illustrators, and one of the earliest women artists to reproduce scenes of Colorado in pen and ink drawings.

Image: Portrait of Eliza Pratt Greatorex
By Ferdinand Thomas Lee Boyle (1869)
Credit: National Academy of Design, New York

Early Years
Eliza Pratt was born December 25, 1819 in Manorhamilton, Ireland, and she emigrated to New York City with her family in 1840. In 1849 she married Henry Wellington Greatorex, a composer of hymns such as “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” They had two daughters, Eleanor and Kathleen, and a son Thomas, who died in Colorado in 1881 at about the age of thirty. The Greatorexes traveled throughout North America and Europe while Henry performed in concerts.

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First American Women in Science I

Female Scientists Who Inspired Others to Follow

Maria Mitchell
Astronomer (1818-1889)
After she discovered a comet in 1847, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the most prestigious honorary societies, elected Maria Mitchell as its first woman member. The Academy was founded during the American Revolution by Founding Fathers John Adams, John Hancock, and other patriots.

Image: Maria Mitchell and her brass telescope
Mitchell and her students used this telescope; now more than 150 years old, it remains among Vassar’s treasures.

Matthew Vassar founded Vassar College in 1861, the second of the Seven Sisters schools to offer higher education strictly for women. In 1865, he appointed Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) the first person on the Vassar faculty. The well-known astronomer made the building of an observatory with living quarters for herself and her father a condition of her employment.

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First Women Inventors

First American Women Inventors

Before the 1970s, the topic of women’s history was largely ignored by the general public. Women have probably been inventing since the dawn of time without recognition. Many women faced prejudice and ridicule when they sought help from men to implement their ideas. Property laws also made it difficult for women to acquire patents for their inventions. By 1850 only thirty-two patents had been issued to women.

Image: Sybilla Masters Corn Refiner

Sybilla Masters (1715)
Sybilla Masters invented a way to clean and refine the Indian corn that the colonists grew in early America and received the first patent issued to man or woman in recorded American history in 1715. Masters’ innovation processed the corn into many different food and cloth products.

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Mary Ann Brown Patten

First Woman Clipper Ship Commander

Mary Ann Brown Patten was the first woman commander of an American Merchant Vessel at the age of nineteen. Her husband, the ship’s captain, was severely ill with fever, and the first mate was attempting to incite a mutiny among the crewmen. Her clipper ship Neptune’s Car was ten thousand miles away from its starting point at New York when she faced the unforgiving winds of Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America. And then on to San Francisco, where clients were waiting for her cargo.

Image: Mary Ann Brown Patten

Mary Ann Brown married sea captain Joshua Patten in 1853 when she was 16. He was 25, and was ferrying cargo and passengers from New York to Boston. In 1854, Joshua Patten was offered the chance to sail the merchant ship Neptune’s Car from New York to San Francisco, through Cape Horn, one of the most dangerous straits in the Western Hemisphere. Reluctant to abandon his young wife, Joshua received permission to bring Mary along on the voyage. With just a matter of hours to prepare, the couple departed on their first trip together.

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First American Women Painters

First Professional Women in Art

In the nineteenth century, women artists signed their work with a first initial and last name to conceal their gender. Not until the second half of the 19th century did women artists make significant progress. In the United States, women gradually became a force on the American art scene, winning prestigious commissions and awards.

Image: Kaaterskill Clove by Harriet Cany Peale
This deep gorge in New York’s Catskill Mountains inspired the Hudson River School of Art, our nation’s first artistic style.

Harriet Cany Peale

Harriet Cany Peale (1800-1869) was born in Philadelphia, where she studied with well-known portrait and historical genre painter, Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860). In 1840 she married Peale and exhibited for the first time at the Artists’ Fund Society that same year. Unlike most women artists of the time, she continued to paint and exhibit portraits and still lifes after she married Peale. They had no children.

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