Happy Birthday to the creation of Women’s History Month!
As you can tell this birthday of the month post is going to be slightly different. This month I want to honor the birth of not a person but an entire celebration, Women’s History Month. As I was deciding whom to write about for my monthly birthday post I realized it was the first day of Women’s History Month, a celebration I thought I was quite familiar with.
Between working at a college campus Women’s Center that is planning numerous events, loving women’s history, and being a women’s studies major I should know about this celebration. However, it dawned on me this morning that I was unsure of how it came to be. Like many things, it was always in my life so I took it for granted. As it turns out, Women’s History Month being nationally recognized is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of the United States.
The Education Task Force of Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women noticed a problem in the 1970’s. Women’s history was barely existent in K-12 curriculum, a problem that still persists through many institutions unfortunately. To address this problem the task force in Sonoma created a “Women’s History Week” in 1978 to bring awareness to women’s history.
The task force intentionally chose the week that would coincide with International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8th. Never heard of International Women’s Day? Or confused about why we need one? Check out my blog post on International Women’s Day here!
Locally in Sonoma County the response was overwhelmingly positive. People liked learning about women. Who would have thought? Dozens of schools planned programs to honor Women’s History Week. Doing special presentations and lectures in classrooms, more than one hundred women from the community participated across the country. There was a “Real Woman” Essay contest that was highly participated in and the week ended with a celebratory parade in Santa Rosa, California. The first Women’s History Week was a huge success.
The following year in 1979, Molly Murphy MacGregor, a member of the original group founding Women’s History Week, spoke at a Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. There were leaders from women and girls organizations from all over the country present. After hearing of the success many people decided to implement the celebratory week into their organizations and school districts.
Not long after in February of 1980 President Carter issued a Presidential Proclamation that the week of March 8th 1980 was declared National Women’s History Week. President Carter’s message was as follows:
“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”
Word was spreading across the nation. State departments of education started to encourage, “celebrations of National Women’s History Week as an effective means to achieving equity goals within classrooms”.
Every year a new national lobbying effort was needed to assure the week would be honored and continue to be recognized publicly. The National Women’s History Project (NWHP) took this effort on year after year. They would distribute materials to help support organizations celebrations of Women’s History Week. The NWHP also created materials that would help educators integrate more women’s history into their organizations or classrooms throughout the entire year.
Many were rallying for the week to become a month. In 1986 there were already 14 states honored March as Women’s History Month. Finally in 1987 at the pushing of the National Women’s History Project Congress expanded the weeklong celebration to a month. It was official; on March 1st, 1987 the first Women’s History Month was born. Every year since 1987 the U.S. Congress has issued a resolution to continue honoring the month.
“Women’s History is Women’s Right. It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision…Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people.”
So how do we celebrate? Lots of ways of course!
Make an effort to talk to someone about why this month is important – friends, kids, co-workers or family members. Intentionally read literature this month written by women. Look at historical sites in your area that honor women and take a trip. Find an organization in your area that is doing an event this month and attend! Learn about women in your field of work. Start with the National Women’s History Project as a resource for exploration. Be a part of the work that centers women’s lives and experiences this month and every month.
Happy Birthday to the start of Women’s History Month!