March is a month of many things: Spring, new beginnings, Easter (kind of) and women’s history month. Sometimes we’ve come so far down the line we forget how things started. That’s why we want to go into a bit more detail about one in particular. It’s a watered down version of course, but for those asking, how did women’s history month come about, here’s your answer.
While there have been a few exceptions, it’s usually been a man’s world. The oldest son tended to inherit everything. Women normally left the family home when they married, voluntarily or otherwise. In many countries, the only option a woman might have who desperately didn’t want to marry was to join a convent.
Elizabeth Did It Her Way
Queen Elizabeth the First of England, the Virgin Queen, managed to do it her way. Throughout Elizabeth’s long life she dangled marriage before the noses of foreigh royals. Of course, they all thought they’d become king by marrying Elizabeth and then rule as they pleased. Nope, they were all being played. She ruled alone – and very well, too -until her death in 1603 at the age of 69. Unfortunately, few women had the opportunity to match her accomplishments.
The U.S. Recognizes the Achievements of Women
It took a long time before women’s achievements were officially recognized in the U.S. At first, it was only one day.
- In 1911, the first International Women’s Day was established.
- California expanded the celebration to a week in 1978.
- President Jimmy Carter officially established Women’s History Week in 1980.
- In 1987, the founders of the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to have March declared Women’s History Month.
Why Dedicating a Month to Women’s Achievements is Important
So, what is Women’s History Month and why does it matter? As mentioned previously, women were conspicuously absent from history books. In fact, that was one of the reasons a group of women banded together to form the National Women’s History Project. In textbooks, 97% of the content was about men. The work, struggles and achievements of women took up 3% of the texts.
There weren’t a lot of role models for little girls. Women who had been historically significant were mentioned briefly or not at all. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example, was extremely important, but almost no one had ever heard of her. She fought vigorously for women’s rights and as an abolitionist during the 1800s. While Susan B. Anthony typically gets mentioned, others, such as Stanton, were not. The impression left with students was that almost no women achieved anything of national significance.
Women who wanted careers were expected to become teachers, secretaries or nurses. A woman CEO or scientist? Of course they existed, but few girls realized they could also dream big dreams and achieve great things. Something needed to change.
Teaching Women’s History Can be Difficult
Educators were often eager to teach students about the many contributions to women, but they had a problem. They didn’t have the materials and resources to highlight women’s achievements. Textbooks barely mentioned women. The problem was particularly obvious when states (Florida, Illinois and Louisiana) began requiring women’s history to be taught in K-12 classes.
The National Women’s History Project has made it their mission to help fill the gap. They send out catalogs, books, videos, posters and other material suitable for classroom use. They work with schools, colleges, the media, organizations, churches and just about anyone who expresses an interest. The group conducts training sessions and tours of sites of historic significance to women. Their goal is to “make history” accurate and supply the answers when someone asks, “What is Women’s History Month?”.
Women’s History Month 2018
On March 24, 2018, the 2018 Honorees will be recognized at a Special Awards Luncheon and Program in Washington, DC. This year’s honorees continued the tradition of fighting against discrimination and for a better world.
The distinguished women being honored this year include:
- Geraldine Ferraro, first woman to run for VP for a major party
- Pauli Murry, women’s and civil rights activist
- Elizabeth Peratrovich, fighter for the rights of Alaska Natives
- Margaret Dunkie, Title IX champion
- Cristina Jimenez, immigrant rights activist
- And many others who have worked tirelessly for many years
If you’d like to learn more, feel free to contact The National Women’s History Project. They can supply a speaker for your group or materials for your classroom. While women have “come a long way, baby,” the work continues. In the off chance you need some convincing of how incredible women are, check out 8 reasons why it’s f*****g awesome to be a woman!