Breaking New Ground: Connecticut Women’s Firsts & Significant Achievements

Women’s History Month 2012

Women’s History Broadside #1

Women’s History Broadside #2

(1777 to the Present)


  • The CT Bar Association selected its first ever female executive director, Alice Bruno.


  • The U.S. Navy base in Groton welcomes the first class of female officers selected for assignment to submarines.
  • Carolyn Kuan is selected as the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s new music director, becoming the first woman to hold that position in the HSO’s 68-year history.


  • For the first time in Connecticut’s legislative history, two African-American women (Senator Toni Harp and Representative Toni Walker) are selected to chair the very powerful Appropriations Committee.
  • The University of Connecticut’s Women’s Basketball Team wins a record-setting 90 consecutive games — more than any other team in NCAA history.
  • The University of Connecticut selects its first female President, Dr. Susan Herbst.
  • Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz becomes the first female superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy in New London. She is the first woman to lead a U.S. military service academy.
  • Lynn Malerba becomes the first female chief of the Connecticut Mohegan Indian Tribe.


  • Rebecca Lobo becomes the first Connecticut player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.


  • Nora R. Dannehy is named acting U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut and becomes the first woman to hold the position.


  • Eliza Garfield becomes the first female Captain of the Amistad, located at Mystic Seaport.
  • Rev. Laura J Ahrens of Bloomfield is consecrated as Connecticut’s first female Episcopal bishop.
  • Gail P. Hardy, a Waterbury prosecutor, is named the state’s first African-American state’s attorney.


  • Maureen Weaver becomes the first woman to serve as a managing partner of a large Connecticut law firm when she is named chair of Wiggin and Dana’s Executive Committee.
  • Esther Torres is the first Hispanic woman in Connecticut to be appointed Warden of the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield.


  • Moira K. Lyons is unanimously elected to her third term as Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives. She is the first woman to serve as speaker, the legislature’s highest position.
  • Linda Spoonster Schwartz is the first woman appointed Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veteran Affairs. She was also the first woman veteran to receive  the prestigious Connecticut Department of Veterans’ Affairs Commendation Medal and was the first woman to receive the National Commendation Medal of Vietnam Veterans of America for Justice, Integrity and Meaningful Achievement.
  • Theresa C. Lantz of Manchester is appointed as the first female Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Correction.


  • Susan Cogswell of Torrington becomes the first female Insurance Commissioner of Connecticut.
  • Anne Stanback becomes the Founding President of Love Makes a Family and the single most influential person in the Connecticut marriage equality movement.


  • Denise Nappier becomes the first African-American woman elected to the office of State Treasurer in the U.S. and the only woman to be elected to that position in Connecticut history.
  • Carolyn M. Mazure founds the Women’s Health Research program at Yale.


  • Nancy Wyman is the first woman in Connecticut’s history to be elected State Comptroller.
  • M. Jodi Rell is elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, the first Republican woman to hold the position.


  • Eileen Kraus becomes the first woman to head a major regional financial institution.


  • Barbara Kennelly of Hartford, becomes the first woman in history to serve as Deputy Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives and the first woman to serve on the House Intelligence Committee.


  • Maria C. Sanchez becomes the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the Connecticut legislature.


  • Katherine Y. Hutchinson is the first woman appointed Connecticut Family Support Magistrate.
  • Carrie Saxon Perry is elected mayor of Hartford and becomes the first African-American woman to be elected mayor of a New England city.
  • Suzanne Cutler, of Colchester is the first woman in the nation to be named executive vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank.


  • Tracy Thurman of Connecticut becomes the first woman to win a civil lawsuit as a battered wife. This sets the stage for major reform of state statutes regarding domestic violence.
  • Lt. Regina Rush-Kittle becomes the first African-American woman to be hired by the Middletown Police Department and the first African-American woman to reach the rank of sergeant and lieutenant in the Connecticut State Police.
  • Joan Glazer Margolis is the first woman appointed United States Magistrate Judge for the District of Connecticut.
  • Denise L. Matthews of Old Saybrook becomes the first woman to graduate at the head of her class at a military academy.
  • Betty C. Tianti of Connecticut is the first female president of a state AFL-CIO federation. She later becomes Connecticut’s first female Commissioner of Labor.
  • Nancy Melendez of Connecticut becomes the first Latina elected to the Hartford City Council.


  • Jody Cohen comes to Connecticut to serve as Associate Rabbi and Educator to Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford. While there, she establishes the first synagogue-run day care center in North America.


  • Paula D. Hughes of Greenwich is the first woman to be appointed to one of the seven seats on the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors.
  • Edna Negron Rosario of Hartford establishes the first family resource center and school-based health clinic in the nation.


  • Patricia Wald, from Torrington, becomes the first woman to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.


  • Competing on the uneven bars, Marcia Frederick of Milford becomes the first American woman to win a gold medal in the World Gymnastics championship in Strasbourg, France.
  • Ellen Bree Burns becomes the first woman appointed to the Connecticut Superior Court.
  • Ellen Ash Peters is the first woman to be named a Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. She is named Chief Justice six years later.


  • Ella Grasso of Connecticut becomes the first woman in U.S. history to be elected governor in her own right.
  • Edythe J. Gaines becomes the first female African-American superintendent of public schools in Connecticut.


  • The General Assembly of Connecticut establishes the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW).
  • The Prudence Crandall Center opens in New Britain, Connecticut, becoming the first women’s shelter in the state. 


  • Joanne Kulawiz of Orange becomes the first woman appointed to the trial bench in Connecticut.


  • Florence S. Wald helps found the first U.S. hospice facility located in Branford.


  • Susan Rich, an accountant in Connecticut, becomes the first female vendor at Shea Stadium.



  • Antonina Uccello is elected mayor of Hartford becoming the first female mayor of a capital city in the United States.


  • Constance Baker Motley, from New Haven is selected as the first female African-American federal court judge.


  • Isabelle Kelley, who grew up in Simsbury, becomes the first woman to direct a national action program for the USDA and the first woman to run a consumer agency for the U.S. government.



  • To challenge Connecticut’s ban on birth control, Estelle Griswold of Hartford and Dr. C. Lee Buxton open a birth control center to dispense contraceptives. Their arrest and conviction leads to the 1965 Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut, which led to the definition of a constitutional right to privacy.



  • Marian Anderson of Danbury becomes the first African-American singer to perform with the Metropolitan Opera.


  • Margaret Fogarty Rudkin, from Fairfield, and founder of Pepperidge Farms, opens the company’s first modern bakery.


  • Ann Petry published her novel titled, The Street, which becomes the first novel written by an African-American woman to sell one million copies.


  • Kathryn Betts Haggerty becomes the first non-military policewoman in Connecticut.
  • Evelyn Jennie Briggs becomes one of the first two state policewomen appointed in Connecticut and goes on to be elected President of the Connecticut Policewomen’s Association.
  • Clare Boothe Luce becomes Connecticut’s first female Congresswoman. She later becomes the first female ambassador to a major country.


  • Chase Going Woodhouse becomes the first Democratic woman to serve as Secretary of State in Connecticut.


  • Sara B. Crawford, a resident of Westport, is elected the first female Secretary of State in Connecticut.


  • Hilda Crosby Standish becomes the first medical director of Connecticut’s first birth control clinic.


  • Mary Goodrich Jenson, a Hartford native and long-time Wethersfield resident, becomes the first woman in Connecticut to earn a pilot’s license.


  • Emily Dunning Barringer of New Canaan becomes the first female physician to receive post-graduate surgical training in hospital service and the first female ambulance surgeon.



  • The Connecticut Audubon Society is founded byMabel Osgood Wright , who serves as the organization’s first president.


  • Mary Hall of Marlborough becomes the first female lawyer in the state.


  • Belva Lockwood, of Connecticut, is the first female lawyer admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.


  • Julia Smith of Glastonbury, is the first woman ever to translate the Bible into other languages.


  • Isabella Beecher Hooker organizes the first convention in Connecticut to discuss the role of women in government and founds the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association.






  • Hat maker Mary Kies, of Connecticut, becomes the first woman to receive a U.S. patent for her method of weaving straw with silk.


  • Sarah Pierce founds the Litchfield Academy, one of the first major educational institutions for women in the United States.


  • Hannah Bunce Watson is named the first female publisher of the Hartford Courant. This role makes her one of the first female publishers in the United States.