First Women & Innovators


Violet P. Henry.jpg

We’ve all heard of the famous women “firsts.” Names like Sally Ride, Marie Curie, and Amelia Earhart are familiar to most schoolchildren. But what does it mean to be an innovator? Many trailblazers remain unknown or less celebrated, but that makes them no less significant to the history of women in the workplace. Violet Pauline King Henry is a name that may be unfamiliar to you, but she conquered both law and the YMCA: not only was she the first Black person to graduate from law school in Alberta, Canada, she was the first Canadian Black woman lawyer, and also the first woman to hold a senior position at the YMCA in the United States.

Joan Gabel.jpg

You may not be familiar with all of the women presented here, but every one made strides in her profession that set her apart from people that had come before. Thematically bookending the women shown on this page are Helen Mar Ely (Class of 1875), the first woman graduate of the University of Minnesota, and President Joan T.A. Gabel, the first woman to lead the University, showing that great firsts are not behind us. 

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First Women & Innovators