Making their Mark


Surveying the historical and cultural contributions of Black women

Kamala Harris made history on Jan. 20, becoming the first woman U.S. vice president. She is sworn in by Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor as her husband Doug Emhoff looks on during the inauguration of President Joe Biden. The former U.S. senator, a Howard University graduate, also made history as the first Black and South Asian woman to be named vice president.


Most of us know prominent Black women in Hollywood — from the late Cicely Tyson to Halle Berry to Kerry Washington. We know superstar Black female athletes, such as the tennis-playing Williams sisters, and we remember bronze medal winning figure skater Debi Thomas from the momentous Calgary Winter Olympics of 1988.

But sports and entertainment aren’t the only arenas in which Black women have achieved.

Here, we examine a historical roll call of Black women firsts and their legacies as we celebrate Black History Month and Women’s History Month with an eclectic and challenging trivia quiz.

  1. Who was the first Black woman named to a U.S. Cabinet position?

    A. Condoleezza Rice
    B. Alexis Herman
    C. Patricia Roberts Harris
    D. Hazel R. O’Leary

  2. Michelle Obama

    Michelle Obama became the first Black first lady when Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. At what college did she complete her undergraduate studies?

    A. Yale
    B. Princeton
    C. Illinois
    D. North Carolina

  3. Debi Thomas became the first Black woman to win a medal in a Winter Games when she captured the bronze in figure skating in 1988. What professional discipline did she enter after her skating career?

    A. Chiropractor
    B. Accountant
    C. Attorney
    D. Physician

  4. Who was the first Black woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature?

    A. Lorraine Hansberry
    B. Toni Morrison
    C. Alice Walker
    D. Maya Angelou

  5. 5. Who was the first Black woman to moderate a U.S. presidential debate?

    A. Gwen Ifill
    B. Suzanne Malveaux
    C. Fredricka Whitfield
    D. Carole Simpson

  6. Halle Berry

    Halle Berry, in 2002, became the first Black woman to receive an Academy Award in the Best Actress category. Name the movie in which she appeared for said award.

    A. “Losing Isaiah”
    B. “Monster’s Ball”
    C. “Solomon & Sheba”
    D. “Gothika”

  7. Name the first Black woman to play for a Negro League baseball team.

    A. Althea Gibson
    B. Wilma Rudolph
    C. Toni Stone
    D. Wyomia Tyus

  8. Who was the first Black female flight attendant?

    A. Ruth Carol Taylor
    B. Bessie Coleman
    C. Shirley Chisholm
    D. Aretha Franklin

  9. Vonetta Flowers became the first Black woman to win a gold medal in a Winter Olympics in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. In which sport did she participate in before bobsledding?

    A. Track and field
    B. Basketball
    C. Softball
    D. Soccer

  10. Ursula Burns is the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Name the company.

    A. Xerox
    B. Archer Daniels Midland
    C. Hewlett-Packard
    D. Avon

  11. Who was the first Black woman named Playboy Magazine’s Playmate of the Month?

    A. Halle Berry
    B. Vanessa Williams
    C. Jennifer Jackson
    D. Dorothy Dandridge

  12. Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur became the first Black couple to compete in Winter Olympic pairs skating when they participated in the Vancouver Games in 2010. Which country did they represent in that Olympics?

    A. United States
    B. England
    C. Canada
    D. France

  13. Name the first Black woman who was a nonsupermodel or a nonathlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.

    A. Beyonce
    B. Rihanna
    C. Aaliyah
    D. Iman

  14. Who was the first Black woman to earn her pilot’s license?

    A. Bessie Coleman
    B. Mae Jemison
    C. Shirley Ann Jackson
    D. Ella Fitzgerald

  15. Alice Coachman became the first Black woman to win a gold medal in an Olympics. In what year did she win the gold?

    A. 1960 Rome
    B. 1936 Berlin
    C. 1948 London
    D. 1956 Melbourne

  16. Name the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. from Duke University.

    A. Susan Rice
    B. Melissa Harris-Perry
    C. Michelle Bernard
    D. Ida Stephens Owens

  17. Who is the first Black woman named to the NCAA’s College Football Playoff Selection Committee?

    A. Pam Oliver
    B. Jemele Hill
    C. Condoleezza Rice
    D. Lisa Salters

  18. Who was the first Black female millionaire in the United States?

    A. Nichelle Nichols
    B. Madam C. J. Walker
    C. Oprah Winfrey
    D. Judy Smith

  19. Gabrielle Douglas became the first Black woman to win a gold medal in the individual all-around gymnastics competition, during the 2012 London Olympic Games. What is her nickname?

    A. “Supergirl”
    B. “Ace”
    C. “Queen of the Mat”
    D. “Flying Squirrel”

  20. Who was the first Black female author to win a Pulitzer Prize?

    A. Gwendolyn Brooks
    B. Zora Neale Hurston
    C. Nikki Giovanni
    D. Terry McMillan

Then Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris addresses the nation after joining then President-elect Joe Biden in being named victors in the presidential election. She speaks during a celebratory event on Nov. 7, 2020, at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware.



  1. C. Patricia Roberts Harris was named secretary of housing and urban development in 1977 during the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
  2. B. At Princeton, Michelle Obama majored in sociology with a minor in African-American studies, earning a B.A. in 1985. She received her law degree from Harvard in 1988.
  3. D. Physician. Debi Thomas graduated from Stanford University in 1991 with a degree in engineering, then graduated from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in 1997. She performed her surgical residency at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Hospital and an orthopedic surgery residency at the Martin Luther King Jr./Charles Drew University Medical Center in South Central Los Angeles.
  4. B. Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993 for the body of her work “characterized by visionary force and poetic import.”
  5. D. Carole Simpson moderated a debate in 1992 between U.S. presidential candidates George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.
  6. B. Halle Berry played the role of Leticia Musgrove, the troubled wife of an executed murderer in “Monster’s Ball.” Her performance was awarded the National Board of Review and the Screen Actors Guild best-actress awards. In a most interesting coincidence, she became the first Black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress when earlier in her career, she portrayed Dorothy Dandridge, the first Black woman nominated for Best Actress.
  7. C. Toni “Tomboy” Stone played second base for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953. She even got a hit off legendary pitcher Satchel Paige.
  8. A. Ruth Carol Taylor became the first Black flight attendant in 1958, working for Mohawk Airlines.
  9. A. Vonetta Flowers initially participated in track and field as a sprinter and long jumper. Flowers originally aimed to compete in the Summer Games, but, after several failed attempts at the trials, she switched to bobsledding, teaming with Jill Bakken to take the gold in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
  10. A. Ursula Burns, who grew up in a housing project in New York City, replaced Anne Mulcahy in 2009 as CEO of Xerox, the world’s largest maker of high-speed color printers. A math whiz, Burns earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University in 1981.
  11. Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur compete in the ice skating pairs event at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.


    C. Jennifer Jackson became the first Black woman to appear as Playmate of the Month for the March 1965 issue. She later became a social worker; her twin sister, Janice, also worked as a Playboy Bunny.

  12. D. Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur represented France. They placed 14th in the competition.
  13.  A. Singer Beyonce created a major buzz in 2007 when she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition.
  14. A. Bessie Coleman received an international pilot’s license in 1921 in France instead of the United States because of segregationist laws in America.
  15. C. Alice Coachman won the high jump in the 1948 London Games with a height of 5 feet, 6 1/8 inches. In fact, she was the only U.S. woman to win a track and field gold medal in that games; Coachman’s dominance was so pronounced that she won the AAU outdoor high jump championships from 1939 to 1948. She was only 25 in 1948, so imagine how many medals she would have won had the 1940 and 1944 Summer Olympics not been canceled because of World War II.
  16. D. Ida Stephens Owens received a Ph.D. in physiology in 1967 from the Duke Graduate School.
  17. C. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also an accomplished figure skater and classical pianist, was named to the 13-person panel that determines the four teams that will play in major college football’s playoff system.
  18. B. Sarah Breedlove, also known as Madam C. J. Walker, was a U.S. entrepreneur and philanthropist who earned her million-dollar fortune by developing and marketing beauty and hair-care products for Black women. She died in 1919 at age 52, amassing her wealth several decades before Oprah.
  19. D. Gabrielle Douglas was nicknamed the “Flying Squirrel” because of her acrobatic performances on the uneven bars.
  20. A. Gwendolyn Brooks, in 1950, won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry with her book, “Annie Allen.”



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