Except That ...
Sally Ride wasn't the first woman in space at all, or even the second. Before we get to who it was, take a minute to think back through all the names you know of famous space explorers ... they're all awfully American-sounding, aren't they? Well, your history books didn't do that by accident.
During the space race, every time the USSR accomplished something noteworthy, the United States made a bunch of sitcom-ish gestures in front of the world news coverage while hoping John Q. Public would never notice. Then, once America accomplished the same feat, we'd shower ourselves in accolades and insist that everyone call us pioneers. That's why you probably didn't know that the first woman in space was actually Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.
In June of 1963, when Ride was just 12 years old, Tereshkova was already taking laps around the Earth aboard the Vostok 6. Her first mission made 48 full orbits during 70.8 hours, which works out to one orbit every one and a half hours. Oh, and she was also the first civilian in space. Before becoming a cosmonaut, her only experience with aircraft was abandoning them in midflight as a professional parachutist.
Yet by the time she finally hung up her spacesuit, Tereshkova had racked up more time in space than all United States astronauts combined. Of course she was silly with awards by then for her extraordinary contributions to space exploration, but the U.S. quietly forced an ether-soaked flag over the mouths of history book writers and jotted down Sally Ride's name instead, despite the fact that she was two decades late.
RIA Novosti / V. Malyshev
On the plus side, Tereshkova got hit on by Khrushchev. So there's that.