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FOR THEM, FIRST THINGS FIRST.

Byline: Maggie Jackson Associated Press

First American woman in space, 1983. First female Supreme Court justice, 1981. First female chain gang, 1996.

It's taken two centuries for women to sit in some of the most plum - and not-so-plum - spots in America, but a look back shows how fast the barriers are falling, Working Woman magazine said Tuesday in releasing a chronicle of ``female firsts'' of the last 20 years.

The magazine chose to list more than 300 jobs taken, records broken, titles captured - from winning the grueling Iditarod dog-sled race (1985) to heading a major movie studio (1987) - to celebrate women's advancements in the 20 years since it began publishing.

``These are all exciting door-openers,'' said Geraldine Ferraro, who was profiled in the magazine as the first woman to run for vice president for a major party. She joined the Democratic ticket during its losing 1984 run.

``Pointing to what has gone before ... lays a marker for the future,'' Ferraro said in a telephone interview, stressing that young women especially should see that ``it's not so long ago that these firsts occurred.''

Among the ``female firsts'' at the pinnacle of public power are also Sandra Day O'Connor, appointed in 1981 as the first female Supreme Court justice, and Sheila Widnall, first female Secretary of the Air Force since 1993.

Only two decades ago, few women even attended law school. Yet there are now 49 women serving in Congress following an election in which women's votes were courted as never before.

Whatever their fields, pioneering women aren't quite alone as they were in 1976. And they aren't considered freaks anymore.

When perky Dorothy Hamill won the national, world and Olympic figure skating championships in 1976, her only major endorsement was for a Clairol shampoo. Now female athletes pull in million-dollar salaries and lucrative endorsements.

When Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983, she was asked at a press conference if she wept when problems arose during training. She turned to her crew mate Rick Hauck and grinned.

``Why doesn't Rick get asked those questions?'' she asked.

Much more, of course, remains to be done. Women make up only 9 percent of police officers, 8 percent of patent holders and 10 percent of corporate directors. And a woman never has been president, vice president, Speaker of the House or chair of the Federal Reserve.

``We have come very far, but we clearly have miles to go before we sleep,'' says Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, a group that works to advance women in business.

``If my 2-1/2-week-old granddaughter is able to become a contributor, to be part of what is going on in our world economy, that's good for my grandsons, too,'' Ferraro said.

Joining the list of accomplishment

Some of the women chronicled in Working Woman magazine's list of ``female firsts'' in the last 20 years:

1976 - Barbara Jordan, first female keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention.

1979 - Eloise R. Page, first female Central Intelligence Agency chief of station.

1981 - Tonia Schlegel, first girl to win All-American soap-box derby.

1981 - Carol Esserman, first female police officer to kill a suspect in the line of duty. She was an officer in New York City.

1990 - Dr. Antonia Novello, first female surgeon general.

1991 - Gertrude Belle Elion, first woman inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame. A co-winner of the Nobel Prize, she has developed drugs to treat leukemia, herpes and malaria.

1991 - Tonya Harding, first American woman to land a triple axel jump in figure-skating competition.

1993 - France Cardova, first female chief scientist for NASA.

1995 - Sheryl Swoopes, first woman to have an athletic shoe named after her. She is an Olympic gold medal-winning basketball player.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos, Box

Photo: (1--2) Sandra Day O'Connor, left, was appointed in 1981 as the first female Supreme Court justice. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983.

Associated Press

Box: Joining the list of accomplishment (See Text)
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Nov 13, 1996
Words:663
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