15 Women’s Power-Dressing Moments
1870s: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
The cofounders of the National Woman Suffrage Association had long been advocating for women’s rights by the time they sat for this photo (Anthony is at the far left). In fact, the process of winning rights for women took so long, neither one lived to see the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, ratified in 1920.
1880s: The Harvey Girls
In the railroad boom that followed the Civil War, entrepreneur Fred Harvey saw an opportunity: workers and travelers who needed to be fed and housed. At its peak, the Harvey House chain—the first of its kind—operated 84 facilities, all of them staffed (as of 1883) exclusively by female servers. With positions originally restricted to white women—many of whom left their homes on farms for the opportunity—the staffs were integrated only much later.
1890s: Nellie Bly
Perhaps the most famous work penned by the crusading investigative journalist, born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, was an account of her solo trip circumventing the globe in celebration of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. She beat his fictional record by eight days. The definition of a light traveler, she wore the dress and coat pictured here throughout the entire journey.
1900s: Julia Ward Howe
In 1908, Howe became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Though she’s famous for writing the lyrics to the Civil War anthem “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” she was also a poet, an essayist, a memoirist, a playwright, a social activist, the founder of two magazines, and the first champion of celebrating a day in honor of mothers.
The mass production of the typewriter not only revolutionized the way that offices worked, it opened a door to the world of business for women—or, as they were known, typewriting girls (one shown here in 1918).
1920s: Gloria Swanson
In the early 1920s, the “Hollywood” sign still said “Hollywoodland” (advertising a new housing development), the film business was in its relative infancy, talkies had yet to come into vogue—and Gloria Swanson reigned supreme at the box office, both a screen and fashion icon.
1930s: Hattie Wyatt Caraway
Caraway was not the first woman to serve in the United States Senate; that honor went to Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia, who served for only 24 hours in 1922, after being appointed to fill a vacancy. But Caraway was the first woman who was elected to the Senate, 10 years later. Appointed in 1931 to fill the spot left when her husband, Senator Thaddeus Caraway, died, she would be elected by the people of Arkansas in 1932 and serve until 1945.
1940s: Rosie the Riveter
When the United States entered World War II at the end of 1941, factories needed to send production into overdrive even as male assembly-line workers left in droves to join the military. Women stepped up to take their places; “Rosie the Riveter” a wildly popular 1942 song celebrated their part in the war effort. By 1944, some 20 million American women were working outside of the home, the majority of them filling non-factory positions.
1950s: Coco Chanel
In the course of her long career, Coco Chanel was up, down, and thoroughly, completely out. But on February 5, 1954, debuting what has come to be known as her comeback collection, Chanel took a stand against the corseted Dior New Look and showed the elegant but easy-fitting, boxy suit that became her signature. Not only did it restore her as a design force, its influence can be felt even today.
1960s: Mary Wells Lawrence
Walking the walk and talking the talk decades before Peggy Olson was a gleam in Matthew Weiner’s eye, Lawrence was a superstar advertising copywriter in the 1950s before founding her own agency, Wells Rich Greene, in 1966. The first woman executive of an advertising firm and the first CEO of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Lawrence today is a cofounder of the website wowOwow.
1970s: Gloria Steinem
The spiritual granddaughter of Stanton and Anthony, journalist Steinem, cofounder of Ms. magazine, is perhaps best known as a leader of the feminist movement and one of the most vocal advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment. Though the proposal was first introduced to Congress in 1923, it has yet to be ratified.
1980s: Sandra Day O’Connor
All respect to Diana Ross aside, Sandra Day O’Connor put a whole new spin on the idea of a Supreme in 1981 when she became the first woman United States Supreme Court justice, nominated by President Ronald Reagan and unanimously approved by the Senate. O’Connor served until her retirement in 2006.
1990s: Madeleine Albright
Now a professor at Georgetown University and a best-selling author, Czech-born Madeleine Albright became the first woman Secretary of State in 1997. At the time, she was the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States government. Since then, two more women (Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton) have held the position.
2000s: The Crew of Atlantic Southeast Airline Flight 5202
That aviation history was made on February 12, 2009, was due to a fluke: The first officer originally assigned to Flight 5202 became ill. But when Stephanie Grant arrived in the cockpit as the replacement, a milestone was reached: The crew of four—Captain Rachelle Jones, flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers, and Grant—became the nation’s first all black, all female flight team.
2010s: Admiral Michelle Howard
Before July 1, 2014, if Howard was known at all outside of military circles, it was as the commander of Task Force 151, instrumental in rescuing kidnapped Captain Richard Phillips following the hijacking of his ship by Somali pirates. But her latest achievement catapulted Howard into rarefied ranks: She was promoted to four-star admiral, the first in the U.S. Navy’s 236-year history.