First and Foremost Exhibition Photo

First & Foremost

An exhibit celebrating Women's History Month in the New York State Capitol
Women’s History Month
New York State Capitol
Governor's Reception Room, 2nd Floor
Monday - Friday
7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.


New York State’s leadership in advancing women’s rights could not have been possible without the trailblazers who led the way. Throughout our history, across movements and eras of change, there are those who are recognized as the first. They are the bold individuals who break down barriers and forge new paths. This exhibition presents just a tiny fraction of the number of women who have contributed to women’s history. We honor the New York women who were first and also acknowledge the women who later rose to a level of prominence and blazed their own trail as the foremost advocates in their field.

As one of the great gateways to our nation, New York is a melting pot — making diversity the lifeblood of the Empire State. The diverse group of women honored in this exhibit represents progressive thinkers and activists from a variety of disciplines. Their efforts have helped to correct unjust and unequal prevailing societal norms and have inspired generations of others to do the same. These women are catalysts for change in New York and continue to have a significant impact nationwide.

Women's History Month

Shirley Chisholm (1924 - 2005)

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

“I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.”

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress. Chisholm represented the 12th Congressional District of New York centered in Brooklyn from 1969 to 1983. While working in Congress, she championed causes such as civil rights, women’s rights, and economic equality. During the 1972 presidential election, Chisholm was the first woman in history to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
Shirley Chisholm

Anna Mae Hays (1920 - 2018)

In 1970, Buffalo-native Anna Mae Hays became the first female U.S. General. In 1942, Hays embarked on a decades-long career, serving on the front lines as a nurse during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In addition to her work as a nurse, Hays also advocated for better treatment of women in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Anna Mae Hays

Governor Kathy Hochul (1958 - )

Governor Kathy Hochul began her career in public service on her local Town Board before serving as Erie County Clerk and then as a member of Congress for New York’s 26th Congressional District. She more recently served as Lieutenant Governor and now as the first female Governor of the State of New York.
Governor Kathy Hochul

Letitia James (1958 - )

Letitia James is the 67th Attorney General for the State of New York. She is the first woman of color to hold statewide office in New York and the first woman to be elected Attorney General. James began her career as a public defender at the Legal Aid Society. She is an experienced attorney and public servant with a decades-long record of accomplishments.
Letitia James

Pauli Murray (1910 - 1985)

Image courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum

Pauli Murray was a lawyer, poet, writer, activist and, according to the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, “the first Black person perceived as a woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest.” Murray coined the term “Jane Crow” to address the rampant racism and sexism that Black women face in America. Privately, Anne Pauline Murray did not conform to societal boundaries of gender and went by Pauli Murray. Murray was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women.
Pauli Murray

Frances Perkins (1880 - 1965)

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Frances Perkins pledged her career to creating safer workplaces after witnessing the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that killed 146 workers in 1911. She was appointed to the New York State Industrial Commission by Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and later became the first woman to hold a cabinet position as President Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor (1933-1945). Perkins was instrumental in crafting government policies to provide jobs and economic relief during the Great Depression.
Frances Perkins

Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias (1929 - 2001)

Dr. Rodriguez-Trias lived and worked in both New York and Puerto Rico. While working as a pediatrician, she became aware of the ways social and economic inequality affected one’s access to health care. She spent the rest of her career educating and advocating for health care accessibility and women’s reproductive rights. In 1993 she became the first Latina director of the American Public Health Association and was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001.
Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 - 1962)

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Known for her advocacy of women’s rights, civil rights, and labor unions, Eleanor Roosevelt is memorialized in history as the “First Lady of the World.” During her time as First Lady, she held a number of firsts, including the first First Lady to hold regular press conferences and to publish a syndicated newspaper column. She was first Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and had a principal role in developing the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Madam C. J. Walker (1867 - 1919)

“I am not merely satisfied in making money for myself, for I am endeavoring to provide employment for hundreds of women of my race.”

Madam C.J. Walker was the first self-made female millionaire due to the success of her top-selling product, Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, which was said to condition and heal the scalp. In 1916, Walker moved to New York and put her fame and fortune toward philanthropic efforts, such as donating to NAACP’s anti-lynching movement.
Madam C. J. Walker

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Often referred to as the “First Lady of Physics,” Chien-Shiung Wu was a pioneer nuclear physicist. From 1944 to 1981 she taught at Columbia University in New York City. She is most known for her work at the Manhattan Project and her Cobalt-60 experiment, which the National Women’s History Museum states “contested the law of conservation of parity.” Chien-Shiung Wu was the first woman to serve as president of the American Physical Society and the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Princeton University.
Chien-Shiung Wu
Women's History Month

Susan B. Anthony (1820 - 1906)

Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Susan B. Anthony was a leading figure of the Women's Suffrage Movement. Prior to becoming a suffragist, Anthony had experience working for reform on causes such as anti-slavery, temperance and teachers’ unions, but it was when she realized how little she was making as a teacher compared to her male colleagues, that she joined the fight for women’s rights. In 1892, she became president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Susan B. Anthony

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933 - 2020)

Brooklyn-native Ruth Bader Ginsburg is remembered for her lifelong career as Judge and Justice and as a pioneer who championed gender equality. In 1993 she became the second woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, serving on the high court for more than 27 years. Her powerful dissents on gender discrimination solidified Ginsburg, or “Notorious RBG” to younger generations, as a cultural and feminist icon whose legacy will never be forgotten in the history of women’s rights.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Augusta Braxton Baker (1911 - 1998)

Image courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division

In 1937, Augusta Braxton Baker began her career as a librarian at the New York Public Library’s 135th Street Branch. In 1953 she became the first Black woman to hold an administrative position at the New York Public Library when she was appointed Associate Coordinator for Children’s Services. Baker spent 30 years working in the New York library system, advocating for libraries to collect books with diverse characters and stories and encouraging writers to write positive stories around people of color.
Augusta Braxton Baker

Janet DiFiore (1955 - )

Janet DiFiore has dedicated her professional life to public service: as an Assistant District Attorney, Family Court and elected Supreme Court Judge, before becoming the thrice elected District Attorney of Westchester County.

In 2016 she was appointed Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the State of New York and unanimously confirmed by the New York State Senate. DiFiore is only the second woman in history to preside over New York State’s highest court.
Janet DiFiore

June Jordan (1936 - 2002)

Image courtesy of Harvard University, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

Poet, playwright, essayist, educator and activist are just some of the titles associated with one of the most highly acclaimed Jamaican American writers from Harlem: June Jordan. Hailed as a “Poet for the People,” Jordan’s work addressed issues concerning race, class, sexuality and gender identity throughout her volumes of essays, poems, plays, literature and political writings. In 1991, Jordan founded “Poetry for the People,” an arts and activism program at the University of California Berkeley.
June Jordan

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (1896 - 1966)

In 1905, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee moved to Chinatown in New York City. At the age of 16, she led suffragists on horseback in parades throughout the city. Mabel fought for suffrage on behalf of all women even though she would not get the chance to benefit from the cause until decades later. Women received the right to vote in the United States in 1920, but Mabel did not have the legal right to vote until 1943 due to the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

Mary Edmonia Lewis “Wildfire” (1844 - 1907)

Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Born in Greenbush, New York to parents of African American and Native American heritage, Mary Edmonia Lewis Wildfire is considered one of the earliest Black sculptors to achieve international acclaim. Due to the racism she experienced in the United States, Lewis moved to Rome, Italy in 1859. While in Rome, she created her largest and most well-known sculpture, The Death of Cleopatra. Aside from Cleopatra, the majority of her work celebrated her dual heritage, depicting African American and Native American subjects.
Mary Edmonia Lewis “Wildfire”

Joanne Shenandoah (1958 - 2021)

AP Photo/Michael Okoniewski

Grammy-award-winning artist Joanne Shenandoah was born in Syracuse, New York and was a member of the Wolf Clan, Oneida Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Her critically acclaimed music brought awareness to the marginalization of Native Americans and proclaimed messages of peace. Her activism went beyond music, such as her work on the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence for the U.S Department of Justice during President Obama’s administration.
Joanne Shenandoah

Betty Lee Sung (1924 - 2023)

Image courtesy of the Asian American/Asian Research Institute, The City University of New York

Betty Lee Sung was an activist and writer considered to be the leading scholar on Chinese Americans. Upon realizing how little scholarship existed on Chinese people in America, she decided to write it herself. Mountain of Gold, her first and pioneering publication, provided the framework for Asian American studies at universities. In 1970, she co-founded the Asian American/Asian Research Institute at The City University of New York where she continued working until her retirement in 1992.
Betty Lee Sung

Sojourner Truth (1797 - 1883)

Isabella Baumfree, later changing her name to Sojourner Truth, was born enslaved in Dutch-speaking Ulster County, New York in 1797. After her escape from slavery in 1827, Truth challenged prevailing notions of racial inequality and gender inferiority, becoming an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance, and civil and women’s rights in the 19th century. At the Women’s Rights Convention of 1851 in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth presented her most famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?”
Sojourner Truth