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Top 10 Firsts for Women in Sports

VO: Emily Brayton
Script written by Dan Deeprose Even today, some people say that sports is a man’s world…but these athletes proved it could be a woman’s world, too! Join MsMojo as we countdown down our picks for the Top 10 Firsts for Women in Sports.

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Top 10 Firsts for Women in Sports

Even today, some people say that sports is a man’s world…but these athletes proved it could be a woman’s world, too! Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 firsts for women in sports.

#10: First Woman to Swim the English Channel (1926)
Gertrude Ederle

Ederle was born in New York in 1905, and she learned to swim as a child at her family’s cottage in New Jersey. When she was twelve, she joined the New York Women’s Swimming association, and within months she had set the world record in the 880-yard freestyle swim – the first of nine world records. In 1924, Ederle and her relay team took home a gold medal in the Summer Olympics, and just two years later, she became the first woman to swim the freezing, turbulent 21 miles from Cap Gris-Nez to Kingsdown, Kent – a swim that took over fourteen hours. She certainly earned her nickname, “Queen of the Waves!”

#9: First Female Sports Reporter in a Locker Room (1975)
Robin Herman

Robin Herman was in the first class of women allowed to attend Princeton University, she was the New York Times’ first female sports reporter, AND she was the first female reporter in a male locker room. Scandalous! This shocking event took place in Montreal, after the National Hockey League’s All-Star game. After arguing for a year, Herman was finally allowed to interview the hockey teams immediately after the game, accompanied by radio reporter Marcel St. Cyr. By “breaking the locker room barrier,” Herman challenged the practices that put female reporters at a disadvantage, but to this day, it’s still a controversial topic.

#8: First Woman to Reach the Summit of Mount Everest (1975)
Junko Tabei

There’s no mountain too high for Junko Tabei. She began the Everest climb in early 1975, with a group of other women from her Ladies’ Climbing Club: Japan– which she formed. It was a long and perilous journey; an avalanche destroyed their camp in May, and Tabei was buried unconscious under the snow. She didn’t let that stop her, though, and just 12 days later she became the first woman to reach the summit. Tabei followed in the footsteps of many other adventurous female mountaineers, including Barbara Washburn, who became the first woman to climb Denali in 1947, and Lucy Walker, who climbed the Matterhorn way back in 1871.

#7: First Woman to Coach a Men's Pro Basketball Team (2009)
Nancy Lieberman

Coaching men in pro sports has to be one of the hardest fields for women to break into. Nancy Lieberman started off playing basketball, and she played for the USA Women’s Pan American team and in the first Women’s Olympic Basketball competition– all while she was still a teenager! It’s not surprising that she continued to play in college, and even after she graduated. She started coaching in 1998, when she became the General Manager and Head Coach of WNBA’s Detroit Shock. A decade later, she shattered the social hierarchy that prevented women from instructing men when she was hired to coach the Texas Legends, a men’s professional basketball team.

#6: First Woman to Found an MLB Team (1962)
Joan Whitney Payson

Joan Whitney Payson was a huge sports fan who held shares in the New York Giants Major League Baseball club, back before the team became the San Francisco Giants. After the team moved to San Francisco, which she strongly disagreed with, she promptly sold her stock and set about forming a new team for New York. Payson and M. Donald Grant founded the team together, and Payson was the majority shareholder and owner. It goes without saying that her team, the New York Mets, went on to become one of the most popular Major League Baseball teams.

#5: First Woman to Race the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 (1977)
Janet Guthrie

Janet Guthrie raced into women’s history in the 1970s. Though she had a degree in physics and started out as an aerospace engineer, she decided to become a race car driver. Soon she was racing professionally, driving a Jaguar XK 140. She broke a lot of barriers, being the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup superspeedway race, and going on to race the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500. She faced a lot of discrimination and discouragement, because car racing was thought to be something that only men could do and, more importantly, only men should do. But she persevered, and paved the way for other female racers to come.

#4: First Woman to Win the WWF Intercontinental Championship (1999)

Joanie Marie Laurer, otherwise known as Chyna, was a bodybuilder and a professional wrestler, rising through the World Wrestling Federation until she was called the “Ninth Wonder of the World”. Besides being the first woman to compete in both the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring tournament, Chyna fought Jeff Jarrett for the title of WWF–now known as WWE– Intercontinental Champion. In what was called a “Good Housekeeping Match,” there were household items lying outside of the ring, and the contestants were allowed to use them as weapons against each other. Chyna won the championship by smashing a guitar over Jarrett’s head.

#3: First Woman to Play in the NHL (1992)
Manon Rhéaume

On the ice, Manon Rhéaume’s job was to defend the net, but she still spent her hockey career breaking through barriers. She spent years playing in the minor leagues, and then in a moment that made history, she was signed to the Trois-Rivières Draveurs, which made her the first woman in a men’s Junior A hockey game. A year later she was the first woman to try out for an NHL team, and she was quickly signed as a free agent. She goal tended for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the St. Louis Blues, meaning that she not only played, but led the team onto the ice.

#2: First Woman in Minor League Baseball (1898)
Lizzie Arlington

In the late 1800s, a lot of female baseball clubs and teams were formed and then quickly dissolved, because women were supposed to be spectators, not players. But that wasn’t going to stop Elizabeth Stroud, more commonly known as Lizzie Arlington. She grew up playing baseball with her father and brothers, and continued to play as a young woman. When she was 22, she was the first woman to sign a professional baseball contract, and in 1898, pitched in a game with the Reading Coal Heavers of the Atlantic League. And even the skeptical, sexist reporters of the time had to admit that she was a success! Since then, many more women have played professional baseball, including Jackie Mitchell, who struck out Babe Ruth himself in 1931.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

First Woman to Win a Triple Crown Race (1993)
Julie Krone

First Female FIFA Executive Committee Member (2012)
Lydia Nsekera

First Woman to Bicycle Around the World (1895)
Annie ‘Londonderry’ Cohen Kopchovsky

First Woman to Lead a Major Professional Sports Union (2014)
Michele Roberts

#1: First Individual Woman to Win an Olympic Gold Medal (1900)
Charlotte Cooper

As a woman in Victorian England, tennis player Charlotte Cooper was obliged to play wearing a floor-length skirt. But that didn’t stop her from winning five Wimbledon singles titles, among many others. Then, in the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, women were allowed to compete for the first time. Cooper played in the tennis singles event and took home the gold medal – making her the first woman to win a gold medal as an individual, rather than as part of a team. She set the stage for many other female Olympic gold medalists, like Madge Syers, who became the first woman to win a gold medal for figure skating in 1908, as well as for many other female athletes who would dominate the Olympics in years to come.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite first for women in sports? For more incredible Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.


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