March is designated as National Women’s History Month by presidential proclamation. Some of us may not know the origins of this national celebration which signifies the importance of recognizing the sacrifices and contributions made by women throughout the history of America.
National Women’s History Month began as Women’s History Week which was established by the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women in California when it was noted that women’s contributions to American history were not taught or discussed in high schools. Other communities across the country followed suit and also celebrated this week to honor the contributions of women.
In 1980, a group called the National Women’s History Project (now known as National Women’s History Alliance) along with women’s groups, historians, and scholars worked to have this week recognized by the government.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed March 2-8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week and noted the following message to the nation:
“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”
National Women’s History Week was eventually changed by Congress in 1987 to National Women’s History Month due to the actions of the National Women’s History Project.
Women fought for recognition of their contributions and rights many years before the establishment of National Women’s History Month.
One of the movements for recognition and rights of women was started by the women’s suffrage movement formed in 1890 by two organizations led by a name we all know, Susan B. Anthony, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone. The women who were involved with this movement never gave up even though they faced seemingly insurmountable hardships.
Through the determination of all women over a decade who worked tirelessly for equality, on Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution stating: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
This amendment was only one step in helping women continue to achieve the respect that they deserved. Many improvements have followed, all due to the continued determination of women in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Many extraordinary women through the years have paved the way for equality for women and as we know, the fight for equality continues today. Some of these women are well known, such as: Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross; Harriet Tubman, American abolitionist; Marie Curie, the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize; and Rosa Parks, an activist and icon of the American Civil Rights Movement. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, followed by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor.
We need to impress upon our children ― especially our daughters ― how important it is to learn about the contributions of these women, as well as the many lesser-known women who have worked to create and maintain a nation where equality is for all and not a few. Learning about these women will show our daughters that there is nothing they cannot accomplish.
Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance selects a theme for Women’s History Month. This year it is Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope. This theme is a tribute to not just the women who have provided healing and hope in the past and present, but also to the caretakers, nurses, doctors, and first responders who have tirelessly worked and are still working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remember to honor these women who contributed to our nation’s history by going to your library and community websites for events that are being held.
Ronald G. Rios is the director of the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners. He submits the occasional column to Newspaper Media Group.