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Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore celebrates Black History Month

This February, in celebration of Black History Month, we’re recognizing women who achieved historic firsts throughout history.

Phillis Wheatley was the first published black poet. Not only was she a slave, she was one of the best known 18th century poets, even being one of the first to celebrate the idea of America in a letter to George Washington. 

Mary Jane Patterson was the first African-American woman to receive a bachelor's degree. She earned her degree from Oberlin College in 1862. She became a teacher and is the maternal grandmother of Langston Hughes. 

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African American woman to study and work as a formally trained nurse, graduating in 1879. She worked at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1920, after women gained the right to vote, she was one of the first women in Boston to register. She was indicted into the American Nurses Hall of Fame in 1976. 

In 1903, Maggie Walker became the first African American woman to charter a bank and serve as its president. When the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank merged with two others, she served as chairwoman of the new Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. Walker’s restored home in Richmond, Virginia, is designated a National Historic Site by the National Park Service. 

Alice Dunnigan was the first African-American woman to receive credentials to cover Congress as a member of the press. She was also one of only three African Americans and two women to cover Harry S. Truman’s 1948 campaign, paying her own way. That same year, she became the first African American woman named a White House correspondent. 

Born premature and weighing less than five pounds, track-and-field athlete Wilma Rudolph grew up to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. She retired two years after the 1960 Olympics, holding world records in three different events. She said she wanted to retire while still performing her best. 

An environmental and political activist from Kenya, Wangari Maathai became the first black woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She received the award in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace, drawing attention to political oppression in her country. 

In 1992, Mae Jemison became the first black woman to travel into space, serving as a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. She then left NASA to start her own business and work as a professor at several universities. She also created a foundation to promote scientific education. 

The youngest of 12 children and the daughter of a sharecropper, Ruth Simmons grew up to become the first African American head of an Ivy League college when she was elected as Brown University’s first female president in November 2000. She served as president for more than a decade. During her tenure she oversaw a billion dollar initiate to enhance the university’s academic programs. 

Born in 1972, Sophia Danenberg became the first African American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, in 2006. A graduate of Harvard University, she reached the peak while suffering from bronchitis, frostbite and a clogged oxygen mask. 

After a career as a nurse, Barbara Hillary made history in 2007 when, at the age of 75, she became the first known black woman to reach the North Pole. Four years later, she traveled to the South Pole, becoming the first African American woman to make it there and the first black woman to visit both poles.