North Carolina Women's History Timeline

Pre-Nineteenth Century 
Date Event
circa 8000 B.C. Creation legends in the Tuscarora, Algonquian, Cherokee, Siouan, and Catawba cultures identify women in four significant roles: life givers, intermediaries between the natural and spiritual worlds, indispensable components of the earth and its processes, and people different from but equally important to men.
1587 August 18: Virginia Dare becomes the first English child born in the New World.
1635 Anne Hutchinson demands that women be allowed to speak in church and is banished from her church as a result.
1695 Dinah Nuthead becomes the first woman printer in the country, in Annapolis, Maryland, by continuing her husband’s business after his death.
1738 Elizabeth Timothy becomes the first woman in America to edit a newspaper, the South Carolina Gazette.
1770s-1787 During the Revolutionary War period, North Carolina women participated in many ways. Learn more here.

October 25: Fifty-one “patriotic ladies” gather in Edenton to announce in writing their boycott of East Indian tea as long as it is taxed by the British. This protest, known as the Edenton Tea Party, is one of the first political activities in this country staged by women. 

Print of Penelope Barker, leader of the Edenton Tea Party. The print's caption reads Mrs. Penelope Barker/President of the Edenton Tea Party of 1774.


Abigail Adams asks her husband, John, to "remember the ladies" when he and the Continental Congress begin writing the laws for the new country. "If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies," she continues, "we will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."

Women, initially permitted to vote in some areas during the colonial period and early statehood, are systematically disfranchised in every state but New Jersey through a series of legislative acts.

1793 Mrs. Samuel Slater, the inventor of cotton sewing thread, becomes the first American to receive a patent.
Nineteenth Century 
Date Event

North Carolina native Dolley Madison becomes First Lady when James Madison is inaugurated as the fourth president. She remains one of the most popular First Ladies in the nation’s history.  

The United States Postal Service issued this stamp in 1980.

1812 The New Bern Female Charitable Society is founded to help “destitute female children.”
1813 Harriet Jacobs is born in Edenton to enslaved parents. Around the age of 12, she becomes the property of a child, Mary Norcom, and lives in her family’s home. Norcom’s father, Dr. James Norcom, physically abuses Jacobs. Jacobs establishes a relationship with future US Congressman Samuel Sawyer and has two children with him. Enraged, Dr. Norcom removes Jacobs to a plantation from which she escapes. After living for seven years in the attic of her free grandmother, Jacobs escapes to New York where she writes Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861.
1820-1860 More than 250 Academies for Girls open in North Carolina during this time period. These institutions were open to white students.

 The Raleigh Female Benevolent Society is officially incorporated. In 1823, the group released a revised constitution and by-laws that included society reports from the preceding two years. In Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History, Guion Johnson praises the society and its first director, Sarah Hawkins Polk. She writes, "She was the life of the organization until her death, and under her influence a thriving charity school for the instruction of orphan girls was maintained. [...] In 1846 the Raleigh Register thought the society was one of the most valuable influences in the life of the town" (p.163).

 Emma Hart Willard founds the Troy Female Seminary, the first endowed school for girls, in Troy, New York.

1823 Catherine Ann Devereux is born in Halifax County. A member of the wealthy antebellum elite, she keeps a journal during the Civil War that is published in 1979.
1826 The General Council of the Cherokee Nation goes against tribal tradition of gender equality by drafting a constitution patterned after that of the United States which excludes women from holding office and denies them franchise.
1827 After New York abolishes slavery, Isabella Baumfree changes her name and begins crusading for abolition, temperance, prison reform, women’s suffrage, and better working conditions. As Sojourner Truth, she becomes a famous figure at antislavery meetings.

Oberlin College becomes the first coeducational college in the United States. In 1841, Oberlin awards the first academic degrees to three women.

Lucretia Mott and other women form the Female Anti-Slavery Society to have a say in how the abolition movement is being organized.

Frankie Silver is convicted for the murder of her husband in present-day Mitchell County. She becomes the first woman in North Carolina to be executed by hanging

1834 Ethel H. Porter, of Lincolnton, patents her invention related to cutting feed for horses and cattle. This was the first known patent issued to a North Carolina woman.
1838 Greensboro College, North Carolina’s first chartered college for women, is opened and operated by the Methodist Church.
1840 Mary Jane Patterson, the first African American woman in the United States to receive a B.A. degree is born in Raleigh.
1841 Mary Norcott Bryan is born in New Bern. Bryan's memoir, A Grandmother's Recollections of Dixie (1912?), offers a wide-ranging, sometimes sentimental description of an antebellum southerner's perspective on her land, history, and culture. The work is presented as a collection of letters to her grandchildren. In these letters, Bryan remembers being a refugee during the Civil War, and paints a grim picture of Reconstruction, which she believed was worse than the war itself. Her letters also include anecdotes from North Carolina history.

Harriet Jacobs, an Edenton slave, is smuggled aboard a ship to escape slavery after spending seven years hiding in a tiny attic room in her grandmother’s house. She escapes to New York, where she buys the freedom of her children. She later writes Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Saint Mary’s School for girls opens in Raleigh and has been in continuous operation since this time. It is associated with the Episcopal Church.


July 19–20: The world’s first women's rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. A Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions is debated and ultimately signed by 68 women and 32 men, setting the agenda for the women's rights movement that follows.

When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo brings the Southwest under U.S. law, married women living in the region lose their property rights and can no longer enter into contracts, sue in court, or operate their own businesses.

Astronomer Maria Mitchell becomes the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; almost a century passes before a second woman is elected.

Dorothea Dix spends three months in North Carolina studying the treatment of the unfortunate and lobbying the state government to build a hospital for the mentally ill. Her persistence and persuasion are rewarded in 1856, when the state legislature makes its first appropriation to a hospital for the insane.


Amelia Jenks Bloomer publishes and edits Lily, the first prominent women's rights newspaper.

Elizabeth Smith Miller appears on the streets of Seneca Falls, New York, in "turkish trousers," soon to be known as "bloomers."


The first national women's rights convention attracts over 1,000 participants to Worcester, Massachusetts, from as far away as California. Only lack of space keeps hundreds more from attending. Annual national conferences are held through 1860 (except 1857).

Quaker physicians establish the Female (later Woman's) Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to give women a chance to learn medicine. Because of threats against them, the first woman graduate under police guard.


Sojourner Truth gives her spontaneous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech at the women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio.

Myrtilla Miner opens the first school to train black women as teachers, in Washington, D.C.

1853 Antoinette Brown (later Blackwell) becomes the first American woman ordained as a minister in a Protestant denomination, serving two First Congregational Churches in New York.

Lucy Stone becomes the first woman on record to keep her surname after marriage, setting a trend among like-minded women, who become known as "Lucy Stoners."

In Missouri v. Celia, a female slave is declared to be property without a right to defend herself against a master's act of rape.

Laura Elizabeth Lee Battle is born in Clayton. In 1909, she published Forget-Me-Nots of the Civil War; A Romance, Containing Reminiscences and Original Letters of Two Confederate Soldiers, a collection of papers and sketches. Her narrative begins with the story of her birth and continues with her two half-brothers' decisions to join the Confederate army despite their father's open support of the abolitionist movement. In the final section of the narrative, Battle describes her family's struggle to survive after the war.

1859 Abigail Carter, of Clinton, North Carolina, invents a pair of overalls designed for her husband, who was a railroad engineer. These sturdy overalls wore so well that other railroad men began asking for them. Carter opened a business and became the first manufacturer of overalls in the United States.
1860 Of 2,225,086 black women in America, 1,971,135 are held in slavery.
1861-1865 North Carolina women found war on their doorsteps. Their responses varied as did their circumstances.

Congress passes the Morrill Act, establishing land grant colleges in rural areas. Millions of women will earn low-cost degrees at these schools. In North Carolina, this act results in the founding of North Carolina State University.

Mary Jane Patterson, a free Black woman from Raleigh, becomes the first African American woman to receive a bachelor of arts degree. She obtains the degree from Oberlin College in Ohio.

March 20: Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock, disguised as a man, enlists in the 26th North Carolina Regiment.

1863 March 18: During what has become known as the Salisbury Bread Riot, several dozen women armed with axes and hatchets storm speculators’ stores demanding flour, molasses, and salt in Salisbury. When shop owners refuse to turn over the goods, the women take them by force.
1864 During the Civil War, Anna Lewis, of Greensboro, invents a machine for ginning, carding, and spinning cotton. The Confederate Patent Office issued Lewis a patent for her invention.
1865 Hundreds of white women move to the South to teach at freedman schools.

The Fourteenth Amendment is passed by Congress (it will be ratified by the states in 1868), defining "citizens" and "voters" as "male" for the first time in the Constitution.

The American Equal Rights Association, the first organization in the country to advocate national women's suffrage, is founded.


Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute incorporates in Raleigh “for the purpose of educating teachers for the colored people of the State of North Carolina” as well as to prepare black men for the Episcopal ministry.

In Concord, Scotia Seminary is founded as a Presbyterian preparatory school for young African American women. The institute prepares women to be teachers, social workers, and other much needed professions. Merging with Barber Memorial College in 1930, and becoming coeducational in 1954, today Barber-Scotia College is a four-year accredited liberal arts school.

On land donated by former Confederate colonel William R. Myers and with a donation from Mary Duke Biddle, widow of Union major Henry J. Biddle, and under the direction of the Catawba Presbytery, a freedmen’s school opens in Charlotte. Initially known as the Henry J. Biddle Memorial Institute, and then Biddle University, the institution is renamed Johnson C. Smith University after a major fire and major rebuilding gift from the Smith family in 1923.

Seven African American citizens buy a lot on Gillespie Street in Fayetteville and join together to create a site for educating local African American children. Originally named Howard School, in honor of the supporter, by 1877, it becomes the State Colored Normal School with support of the General Assembly. By 1929, high school classes are no longer offered and in 1937 it becomes a four-year college and is named Fayetteville State Teachers College. By 1969 it is Fayetteville State University and in 1972 it becomes part of the University of North Carolina System.

Mecklenburg Female College is founded at the former site of North Carolina Military Institute in Charlotte. The new college advertises for new pupils by emphasizing the school's "encouraging prospects," unique curriculum, and superior instructors.

1868 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony begin publishing The Revolution, an important women's movement periodical. Other media ridicule their ideas, calling wider public attention to them.

The North Carolina legislature passes a new constitution that grants women the right to own property and businesses, to work for their own wages, to sue in courts, to make wills, and to make contracts without their husbands' consent.

The National Labor Union supports equal pay for equal work.


In disagreement over the Fifteenth Amendment, Anthony and Stanton withdraw from the Equal Rights Association to found the National Woman Suffrage Association. Its wide-ranging goals include a federal amendment for the women's vote.

The American Woman Suffrage Association is formed to secure the vote through each state constitution.

December 10: the first woman suffrage law in the United States passes in the territory of Wyoming.

 Harriet Morrison Irwin, of Charlotte, designs a hexagonal house and becomes the first woman in the United States to patent an architec­tural innovation.

1870 The Fifteenth Amendment receives final ratification. By its text, women are not specifically excluded from the vote. During the next two years, approximately 150 women attempt to vote in almost a dozen different jurisdictions from Delaware to California. Among them are the Grimke sisters in Boston, Sojourner Truth in, Michigan, and Matilda Joselyn Gage in New York. In South Carolina, a few black women, protected by Reconstruction officials, cast ballots.
1870 The first issue of the Woman's Journal appears, sponsored by the American Woman Suffrage Association and edited by Mary Livermore. It is published until 1917.

Charlotte E. Ray, Howard University law school graduate, becomes the first African American woman admitted to the U.S. bar.

November 5: Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women register and vote in the presidential election to test whether the recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment can be interpreted as protecting women's rights. Anthony is arrested, tried, found guilty, and fined $100, which she refuses to pay.

Dr. Susan Dimock becomes the first female member of the North Carolina Medical Society, although she never practices in the state. Earlier Dimock is forced to go abroad to find a medical school that will accept women, then practices at a hospital in Boston as one of the nation’s first licensed female doctors.


In Bradwell v. Illinois, the U.S. Supreme Court affirms that states can restrict women from practicing any profession in order to preserve family harmony and uphold the law of the Creator.

Supported by the Freedman’s Aid and Southern Education Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a coeducational academy begins for African American youth in Greensboro. Named for philanthropist Lyman Bennett who is an initial supporter of the school, Bennett Seminary becomes a college in 1889, and in 1926, the school repurposes to educate women exclusively. Today the four-year accredited liberal arts college continues to serve primarily African American women.

1874 The Woman's Christian Temperance Union is founded by Annie Wittenmyer. The WCTU later becomes an important force for woman suffrage.

Through her will, Sophia Smith becomes the first woman to found and endow a women's college. Smith College, chartered in 1871, opens in 1875.

In Minor v. Happersett, the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to extend the Fourteenth Amendment protection to women, thereby denying them the vote.

1876 Matilda Joslyn Gage writes a Declaration of the Rights of Women, distributed on July 4 to crowds attending the massive Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Many women's networks grow out of the action.
1877 The North Carolina General Assembly establishes the State Colored Normal School as the first African American teacher-training school in the South. The Howard School, which opens in 1867 in Fayetteville, is chosen for the site. Eventually the school becomes Fayetteville State University.

Tabitha Ann Holton passes the North Carolina state bar to become the first licensed female lawyer in the South.

The Susan B. Anthony Amendment, to grant women the vote, is introduced in the U.S. Congress.

1880 The 1870s see an 80 percent increase in the number of women teachers, mainly in the West.

November: The first Woman’s Christian Temperance Union chapter is established in the state in Greensboro. Within a year, 11 more chapters are established and in 1903 the state has 65 chapters and 3,000 members. With the passing of state prohibition in 1908, membership dwindles to 1,000.  
The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union awarded this medal. The organization gave many women their first opportunity to move out of their domestic realm into the public arena of political and social activism.


Dr. Annie Lawne Alexander, born in Mecklenburg County, returns to the state several years after her graduation from Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia to become the state’s first licensed female doctor.

For the first and only time in the nineteenth century, the U.S. Senate votes on woman suffrage. Suffrage loses, 34 to 16. Twenty-five senators do not bother to participate.

Beulah Louise Henry is born in Raleigh. She is an inventor with more than 40 patents, by the time of her death in 1973.

1888 Elizabeth Herbert Smith Taylor is born in Scotland Neck. Taylor served as a nurse during World War I with the Maguire Unit of the Army Nurse Corps. She was educated at North Carolina College for Women in Greensboro and received training in nursing at St. Timothy's Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her diary, which consists of pithy statements summarizing the events of each day, begins with her cross-Atlantic trip to France in September 1918 as part of the Army Nurse Corps. The diary provides a fascinating look at the variety of social gatherings created by hard-working soldiers and support personnel during World War I.

The work of educated women serving the Chicago poor at Hull House establishes social work as a paid profession for women.

African American members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement secede and form WCTU No. 2. Like the original group, the spin-off reports directly to the national organization. North Carolina is the only state to have a black woman’s temperance union, and by 1891 WCTU No. 2 will have 400 members in 19 chapters.


The General Assembly charters the State Normal and Industrial College as the first state-supported institution of higher education for women. Known as Women’s College, the school will evolve into the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The State Colored Normal School at Elizabeth City opens to train African American teachers. It eventually becomes Elizabeth City State University. In 1972 ECSU joins the University of North Carolina System.


Slater Industrial Academy is founded for African Americans. In 1925, the General Assembly recognizes the Academy’s leadership in training elementary teachers, grants it a new charter and changes the name to Winston-Salem Teachers College. It is the first African American school to grant degrees for teaching elementary grades. In 1957 it becomes Winston-Salem State University. Today, it is part of the University of North Carolina University System.

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper writes A Voice from the South. Born enslaved in 1858 in Raleigh, she is a student at Saint Augustine’s Normal School when it opens in 1868. She receives a B.A. in mathematics from Oberlin College in 1894, and an M.A. in 1887. After teaching math and science at the prestigious “M Street School” in Washington, DC, she eventually becomes the school’s principal.


Colorado is the first state to adopt a state amendment franchising women.

March 4: The North Carolina General Assembly passes a law allowing women to cash checks and withdraw money from their personal accounts without obtaining their husbands' permission

1894 The United Daughters of the Confederacy is established. By 1901 North Carolina will have 33 chapters.
1895 Elizabeth Cady Stanton publishes the first volume of The Woman's Bible, in which she revises biblical passages that degrade women. Reviled but not deterred, she publishes a second volume in 1898.
1896 The National Association of Colored Women, founded by Margaret Murray Washington, unites black women's organizations.
1897 The first petition to the North Carolina General Assembly for woman suffrage is referred to the committee on insane asylums.
1898 Sallie Walker Stockard becomes the first woman to graduate from the University of North Carolina. Women have been allowed to attend the summer teachers’ institute in Chapel Hill since 1879, but Stockard is the first female student to earn a degree from the university.
Twentieth Century 
Date Event
1900 Two-thirds of divorce cases are initiated by wives. A century earlier, most women lack the right to sue, and many are hopelessly locked into bad marriages.

The North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs is organized

October 10: Charlotte Hawkins Brown opens Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia.

The campus of Palmer Memorial Institute, ca. 1915.

1904 Diotrion W. and Mary Epps deed land for a new subscription Indian school for Saponi and Tutelo children in Person County.
1910 The number of women attending college has increased 150 percent since 1900.
1911 Jovita and Soledad Pena organize La Liga Femenil Mexicanista (League of Mexican Feminists) in Laredo, Texas. Its motto: "Educate a woman and you educate a family."

Juliette Gordon Low founds the first American group of Girl Guides, in Atlanta. Later renamed Girl Scouts of the USA, the organization brings girls into the outdoors, encourages their self-reliance and resourcefulness, and prepares them for varied roles as adults.

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner is born in Monroe, near Charlotte. An inventor, she receives five patents for household and personal items.


March 3: 5,000 to 8,000 suffragists parade in Washington, D.C., drawing people away from the arrival of newly elected President Woodrow Wilson. They are mobbed by abusive crowds along the way.

May 10: the largest suffrage parade to date, including perhaps 500 men, marches down Fifth Avenue in New York City.

 North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice and women's suffrage activist Walter McKenzie Clark addresses the Federation of Women's Clubs in New Bern on May 8. In this speech, Clark compares the treatment of women to slavery. In 1915, Clark wrote a dissenting judicial opinion that specifically defended the rights of women to be notaries public, but also called for broader political rights for women in general. He makes this argument again in his 1916 address, "Ballots for Both." 

1914 The first meeting of the Equal Suffrage League of North Carolina is held in Charlotte.

Forty thousand people march in a New York City suffrage parade, the largest parade ever held in that city.

The Second Annual Convention of the Equal Suffrage Association of North Carolina is held at the Battery Park Hotel in Asheville on October 29. At this convention, members discuss legislation from the previous year, set goals for the coming year, and reaffirm their commitment to fighting illiteracy in North Carolina. The printed proceedings of the meeting also include a copy of the association's constitution.


During World War I, women move into many jobs, working in heavy industry, mining, chemical manufacturing, and automobile and railway plants. They also run streetcars, conduct trains, direct traffic, and deliver mail. In North Carolina, women contributed in a myriad of ways.

Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress as a member of the House of Representatives.

October: 168 National Woman's Party members are arrested and convicted for peacefully picketing the White House for woman suffrage, becoming the first U.S. citizens held as political prisoners. In prison, they stage hunger strikes and are force-fed. In response to public outcry, they are eventually released without comment or pardon.


January 8: Margaret Sanger wins her suit, New York v. Sanger, to allow doctors to advise their married patients about birth control for health purposes.

Harriet Morehead Berry is appointed head of North Carolina’s Road Commission and soon becomes known as the “Mother of Good Roads in North Carolina.”


The U.S. House of Representatives passes the Women’s Suffrage Amendment, 304 to 89; the Senate passes it with just two votes to spare, 56 to 25.

The North Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs holds its seventeenth annual convention in Hendersonville. In her History of the North Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs 1901-1925, Sallie Southall Cotten writes, "The enthusiasm of the meeting reached a climax when Mrs. S. P. Cooper announced the completion of the Endowment, $5,000 in cash, the interest of which was to be used for Federation needs. Her success brought rounds of applause" (p. 136). The group was organized in Winston-Salem in 1902 and became an important part of the nationwide women's club movement described by Nellie Roberson in The Journal of Social Forces.

1920s African American educators Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and Mary McLeod Bethune emerge as nationally known speakers and promote education as a means for racial improvement.

Female college undergraduates have doubled in number since 1910.

Despite the efforts of a number of black women voter leagues, when black women try to register to vote in most southern states, they face property tax requirements, literacy tests, and other obstacles.

August 26: the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing American female citizens the right to vote. It is quietly signed into law in a ceremony to which the press and suffragists are not invited.

The North Carolina League of Women Voters encourages women to exercise their newly established right to vote. In one advertisement with the heading "Women May Now Vote," the league reminds women that they must register to vote and encourages them "to study the issues of the present campaign and to inform themselves as to the candidates for the various offices, national, state, county, and city. Investigate their personal and political qualifications and their stand on the issues of the campaign." In another ad, with the heading "Women Register and Vote," the League asserts "Women have proven themselves patriotic citizens in the past. They have answered every call to civic service. They will contribute their best to the State and Nation now by using their vote for better government."

Lillian Exum Clement of Buncombe County becomes the first woman elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives. 

Lillian Exum Clement in 1920. Clement was the first women in North Carolina to begin a law practice without male partners.

In October Equal Suffrage League president Gertrude Weil and other suffragists gather in Greensboro to plan how to use the right to vote to focus on women’s issues and to transform the North Carolina Equal Suffrage League into the North Carolina League of Women Voters.


Margaret Sanger organizes the American Birth Control League, which evolves into the Federation of Planned Parenthood in 1942.

Kate Burr Johnson of Morganton becomes the first woman in the country to serve as state commissioner of public welfare and the first woman in the state to head a major department.

1923 Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party succeed in having a constitutional amendment introduced in Congress that states: "Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction." In 1943 the wording is revised to what we know today as the Equal Rights Amendment.
1925 Anna Julia Heywood Cooper becomes the fourth African American woman to earn a Ph.D.; hers is earned from the Sorbonne University in France. Retiring as principal of the M Street (Dunbar) School in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the Washington Negro Folklore Society which she helps found and continues to work for the black feminist movement.

Annie Wealthy Holland of Gates County forms the North Carolina Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, the first such organization for African Americans in the state.

The Berkshire Conference on the History of Women is organized after women's history is ignored by the American Historical Association.

1929 Ella May Wiggins, one of the most outspoken union activists in North Carolina, is killed during a labor dispute at the Loray Mill.
1930s An informal “Black Cabinet” responds to African American concerns during the New Deal. The cabinet is not a formally recognized group, but consists of several influential African Americans, including Mary McLeod Bethune, who meet as needed to educate white politicians and leaders about racial issues and establish a precedent for black participation in federal programs.

The National Recovery Act forbids more than one family member from holding a government job. As a result, many women lose their jobs.

Hattie Wyatt Caraway becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She will represent Louisiana for three terms.

1933 Frances Perkins, the first woman in a presidential cabinet, serves as secretary of labor during the entire Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency.
1934 Annie Wealthy Holland dies on the job, after a life’s work as an educator. A teacher for a number of years, Holland was the state demonstration agent for North Carolina on behalf of a trust for African American schools and was, in effect, the state supervisor of Negro elementary schools. Traveling constantly around the state she taught demonstration classes on all topics, held meetings, and organized fundraising for schools.
1935 Mary McLeod Bethune organizes the National Council of Negro Women as a lobbying coalition of black women's groups and serves as president until 1949. The NCNW takes the forefront in fighting job discrimination, racism, and sexism.
1937 North Carolina initiates a birth control program, funds maternal and infant health programs, and licenses midwives.
1938 Pauli Murray applies for admission to graduate school at the University of North Carolina. Her application is rejected because “members of your race are not admitted to the University.”  Governor Clyde R. Hoey justifies this stand (as opposed to the Gaines decision earlier in the year) because “separate” black schools are considered “equal” in her field. After receiving her law degree from Howard University, Harvard Law School rejects her as an advanced Fellowship scholar in law because of her gender. She receives her M.A. in law from the University of California.
1941 A massive government and industry media campaign persuades women to take jobs during World War II. Almost seven million women respond, two million as industrial "Rosie the Riveters" and 400,000 as members of the military.

On May 15, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signs a bill that creates the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Women who join the corps perform a variety of noncombat tasks formerly done by male soldiers, such as driving military vehicles; rigging parachutes; and serving as translators, cooks, weather forecasters, and aircraft control tower operators. 

Learn more about North Carolina’s women at war.

The U.S. Army used propaganda posters like this to recruit WAACs.

1943 Durham resident Doris Lyon refuses to move to a seat in the back of a city bus. When a detective tries to move her forcibly, Lyon defends herself and is arrested and found guilty of assault and battery.

The Equal Pay for Equal Work bill is again introduced into Congress. It will pass in 1963.

Women industrial workers begin to lose their jobs in large numbers to returning servicemen. Surveys show that 80 percent want to continue working.

Ireta Melton Alexander is the first African American woman to graduate from Columbia Law School, after receiving her BA from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University. Born in Smithfield, Alexander practices law in Greensboro where she challenges racial inequality and segregation as an advocate for young offenders and African Americans. She is elected as the first African American woman to a district court judgeship in 1968.

1947 Elreta Alexander becomes the first African American woman licensed as a lawyer in North Carolina.
1948 Margaret Chase Smith (Republican from Maine) becomes the first woman elected to both houses of the U.S. Congress when she is elected to the Senate. In 1964 she will become the first woman to run for the U.S. presidency in the primaries of a major political party. She will serve in the Senate until 1973.
1949 Susie Sharp becomes North Carolina’s first female superior court judge.
1951 Durham born Pauli Murray publishes State’s Laws on Race and Color, which future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall calls “the Bible for civil rights lawyers.” Murray goes on to write Proud Shoes (1956) an autobiographical work, and teaches law in Ghana where she writes the first English-language textbook on law in Africa.
1955-1956 Seamstress Rosa Parks becomes a powerful symbol of African American protest against segregation. On December 1, 1955, Parks boards a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Finding no seats in the black section at the rear of the bus, she takes a seat closer to the front. When she refuses to give her seat to a white man, she is arrested and jailed. Community leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., organize the citywide Montgomery bus boycott. The boycott lasts for 381 days.
1957 The numbers of women and men voting are approximately equal for the first time.
1959 Durham mothers Jocelyn McKissick and Elaine Richardson successfully sue to have their daughters admitted to the city’s predominantly white high school.
February 1, 1960 Four black students from N.C. A&T College, Ezell Blair, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Joseph McNeil, stage a peaceful sit-in after they are refused service at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro. By February 4, over 300 students from North Carolina A&T, Bennett College, Women’s College of the University of North Carolina, and Dudley High School join in the protest. Dudley students continue the sit-ins during the summer when college students leave Greensboro. The mode of protest quickly spreads across the South.
April 1960 Ella Baker, a Shaw University Graduate, organizes the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Raleigh at Shaw University. SNCC helps to provide communication among southern college campuses and student groups. By late 1961, more than 70,000 students have participated in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, wade-ins at segregated beaches and pools, and pray-ins or kneel-ins at segregated churches. Baker and SNCC mentor civil rights leaders, including Marion S. Barry, Julian Bond, and John Lewis.

The Food and Drug Administration approves birth control pills.

Women now earn only 60 cents for every dollar earned by men, a decline since 1955. Women of color earn only 42 cents.


President John F. Kennedy creates the President's Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. Fifty parallel state commissions are eventually established.

President John F. Kennedy appoints Pauli Murray to the Commission on the Status of Women on Civil and Political Rights.

1962 Judge Susie Sharp becomes first woman to serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court.

A report issued by the President's Commission on the Status of Women documents discrimination against women in virtually every area of American life. It makes 24 specific recommendations, some surprisingly farsighted (e.g., community property in marriages). Some 64,000 copies are sold in less than a year, and talk of women's rights is again respectable.

Betty Friedan's best-seller The Feminine Mystique details the "problem that has no name." Five million copies are sold by 1970, laying the groundwork for the modern feminist movement.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars employment discrimination by private employers, employment agencies, and unions based on race, sex, and other grounds. To investigate complaints and enforce penalties, it establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which receives 50,000 complaints of gender discrimination in its first five years.

Anna Cooper Julia Heyward, dies in Washington, DC at the age of 106, and is buried in Raleigh’s City Cemetery.

1966 Pauli Murray helps found the National Organization for Women.
1967 Executive Order 11375 expands Executive Order 11246's nondiscrimination measure to include women; however, enforcement is not won until 1973.

The first national women's liberation conference takes place in Chicago.

Shirley Chisholm (Democrat from New York) becomes the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress; she will serve in the House of Representatives for 14 years.

1968 Margaret Taylor Harper enters the race for lieutenant governor of North Carolina, becoming the first woman to run for statewide office.

The Boston Women's Health Book Collective publishes the self-help manual Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book by and for Women, incorporating medical information with personal experiences. Nearly four million copies will be sold by 1997.

Betty Friedan organizes the first Women's Equality Day on August 26 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of women's right to vote.

The North American Indian Women's Association is founded.

The Equal Rights Amendment is reintroduced into Congress.

1971 The North Carolina General Assembly ratifies the Nineteenth Amendment after 51 years.
1972 Title IX of the Education Amendment requires that "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

In Eisenstadt v. Baird, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the right to privacy encompasses an unmarried person's right to use contraceptives.

Congress extends the Equal Pay Act to include executive, administrative, and professional personnel.

Congress passes the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, giving the Equal Employment Opportunity Council power to take legal action to enforce its rulings.

March 22: After languishing since 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment passes in Congress and goes to the states for ratification. Hawaii approves it within the hour. By the end of the week, so have Delaware, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Idaho, and Iowa.


The National Black Feminist Organization is established.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance issues guidelines prohibiting sex discrimination in employment by any federal contractor and requiring affirmative action to correct existing imbalances.

The U.S. military is integrated when women-only branches are eliminated.

In Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court establishes a woman's right to abortion, effectively canceling the anti-abortion laws of 46 states.

1974 Ella Grasso becomes the first woman to win election as governor in her own right, in Connecticut.

Title IX goes into effect. It opens the way for women's increased participation in athletic programs and professional schools, and enrollments leap in both categories. Title IX will withstand repeated court challenges over time.

U.S. military academies open admissions to women.


The North Carolina General Assembly declines to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Pauli Murray breaks racial and gender barriers when she is ordained as the first African American woman priest of the Episcopal Church. She celebrates her first Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, the same church her grandmother received baptism while enslaved. Murray dies in 1985.

The General Assembly repeals the ban on interracial marriage.

Isabella Cannon is elected mayor of Raleigh, becoming the first female mayor of a major North Carolina city.


Some 100,000 people march in support of the Equal Rights Amendment in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in history, more women than men enter college.

1980 The "gender gap" first appears at the election polls as women report different political priorities than men.

At the request of women's organizations, President Jimmy Carter proclaims the first National Women's History Week, incorporating March 8 as International Women's Day.

Sandra Day O'Connor becomes the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1993 Ruth Bader Ginsberg will join her, followed by Sonia Sotomayor (2009) and Elena Kagan (2010). Justice O’Connor retires in 2006.

1984 Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first woman vice presidential candidate of a major political party.
1985 Wilma Mankiller becomes the first woman principal chief of a major Native American tribe, the Cherokee in Oklahoma.

About 25 percent of scientists are now women, but females are still less likely than men to be full professors or to be on a tenure track in universities.

On Labor Day weekend, descendants of enslaved persons from Somerset Place meet at the former plantation for a “Somerset Homecoming” reunion.

1987 Responding to the National Women's History Project, the U.S. Congress declares March as National Women's History Month.
1988 Gertrude B. Elion and research partner George H. Hitchings win the Nobel Prize for medicine for their pioneering research in drug development at Burroughs Wellcome in Research Triangle Park.

Women-owned businesses employ more workers in the country than Fortune 500 companies do worldwide.

November: Eva M. Clayton is elected to the United States House of Representatives. She is the first woman and the first African American woman to represent North Carolina in Congress.


The Family Medical Leave Act goes into effect. Vetoed by President George Bush, it is the first bill signed by President Bill Clinton.

Women hold a record number of positions in state and federal governments.

North Carolina natives Sadie and Bessie Delaney, at ages 104 and 102, publish their book, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years. Their story becomes a successful Broadway play.

1996 Elaine F. Marshall is elected North Carolina's first female secretary of state.
1997 Elaborating on Title IX, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that college athletics programs must actively involve roughly equal numbers of men and women to qualify for federal support.
2000 Beverly Purdue is elected North Carolina's first female lieutenant governor.
2002 Elizabeth Dole is elected North Carolina's first female United States senator.
2008 Beverly Purdue is elected North Carolina's first female governor.
2015 Greensboro born Loretta Lynch becomes the first African American woman to become Attorney General of the United States.