Nella Larsen, a critically acclaimed author of the Harlem Renaissance, was born in 1891 to a West Indian father and Danish mother. Shunned her entire life by her white relatives, she struggled to fit in anywhere, and explored both sexual identity and the concept of passing in her novels “Quicksand” and “Passing.” In 1930 she became the first Black woman to be awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. She said, “It’s funny about ‘passing.’ We disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. We shy away from it with an odd kind of revulsion, but we protect it.” Read more of her biography here
PATSY TAKEMOTO MINK
In 1964 Patsy Takemoto Mink, an Asian-American from Hawaii, became the first woman of color elected to the US Congress. A champion of education and childcare, her signature achievement, The Comprehensive Child Development Act, a national daycare system designed to support low-income households, which passed both houses in 1971, was vetoed by Nixon for giving “too many incentives” for women to work outside the home. We still have no comprehensive child-care system. She said,“It is easy enough to vote right and be consistently with the majority . . . but it is more often more important to be ahead of the majority and this means being willing to cut the first furrow in the ground and stand alone for a while if necessary.” For more about Patsy Mink and Congress in general
On May 16, 1975, only twelve days after being buried in an avalanche, Junko Tabei became the first woman to summit Everest. in the face of criticism that women should only be “raising children,” discrimination against female climbers was so severe in Japan that Tabei formed an all-female climbing team and raised her own funds for the climb. By 1992 she had become the first woman to complete the Seven Summits challenge, summiting the tallest mountain on all seven continents. She went on to climb the tallest mountains in 70 countries. She said, “Everest for me, and I believe for the world, is the physical and symbolic manifestation of overcoming odds to achieve a dream.” More about Junko here.
RAYMONDE de LAROCHE
Sometimes called the Baroness of Flight, In 1910, Raymonde de Laroche became the first female licensed pilot in the world. Surviving multiple plane and car crashes, she competed (and won) many aviation competitions. When she was barred from being a fighter pilot for France in WWI, she became a military driver, transporting soldiers to and from the front. She died in a plane crash at 33 years old. She wasn’t flying the plane. Read more about her flying exploits here.
In 1992, Deb Price debuted her column for the Detroit News as the first openly gay, nationally-syndicated columnist in the country. Her 900 weekly columns introduced heterosexual America to the very normal and sometimes extraordinary issues of gay life. When she and her long-time partner, Joyce Murdoch, were finally able to wed in 2003, theirs was the first gay marriage announcement published in the Washington Post. The last line of her first column was, “So tell me, America, how do I introduce Joyce?” Sadly, Joyce died in 2020. Read her obituary from the Washington Post