Marching Toward Women's History Month
By Gregory P. Townsend
To most of us, the month of March marks the beginning of a new season, which begins with the morning freshness and abundant bloom of spring, followed by the balmy, starry nights of summer.
But it is also a month designated as Women’s History Month. And while we recognize and celebrate the sometimes familiar, yet always diverse, variety of cultures, heritages and legacies throughout the year, consider this: Women’s History is a relatively new and contemporary phenomenon.
In the United States, many significant and historic events contributed in bringing American women’s history to the forefront. The fight for equal rights and, ultimately, the right to vote for women began in the U.S. during the mid-1800s. The Suffrage Movement, spearheaded by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was the centerpiece of the movement for voting rights. And although the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, guaranteeing women the right to vote, neither Anthony nor Stanton were alive to see it ratified.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the women's movement gained some traction, causing women to question their invisibility in traditional American history texts. The movement eventually raised the aspirations as well as the opportunities of women that, decades before, would not have existed beyond their former “traditional” roles. As a result, female historians, as well as state and federal legislators, attorneys, administrators, teachers, police officers, surgeons, scientists, entrepreneurs, authors, religious leaders, chief executive officers, and astronauts are familiar fixtures in contemporary life here in the U.S.
Women's history has impacted the study of history itself in the U.S. Decades before, "history" had traditionally meant political history—a chronicle of the key political events and of the leaders, typically men, who influenced them. In more modern times, however, a more “social” recording of history emerged, replacing the older style. Emphasis shifted to a broader spectrum of American life, including such topics as the history of urban life, public health, ethnicity, the media, and poverty.
In 1978, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women kicked off a “Women’s History Week” celebration designed to promote and encourage learning about the contributions made by women throughout history. Organizers coincidentally chose the week of March 8 as a launch, which apparently caught the attention of state departments of education, local, state and federal governments and schools.
Eventually mainstream interest in Women's History Week, led by the National Women's History Project – which pushed for an entire month – attracted Congressional attention. And in 1987, the month of March was designated as Women's History Month. Each year since, American presidents have issued an official proclamation, encouraging all Americans to observe the month with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities that honor the history, accomplishments and contributions of American women.
For more information on Women’s History Month, please contact the District 7 Equal Employment Opportunity Office at (213) 897-0797.