Evolution of Women’s History Month in the U.S. By Lauryn Green
March has been commonly known as Women’s History Month for several decades. The purpose of Women’s History Month is to commemorate the contributions and achievements of women who have shattered glass ceilings, challenged the status quo, and fought long and hard to pave the way for the world in which we live today. While many people are familiar with historical female leaders, such as Susan B. Anthony, Shirley Chisholm, Harriet Tubman, and many more, the foundation of Women’s History Month entails a compelling backstory dating back to the mid-and late 19th and early 20th centuries.
From 1848 until the early 20th century, many female suffragists advocated for the right to vote through different mechanisms, such as forming influential organizations, attending conventions, and participating in marches. Given the prevalence of intersectionality, many Black women joined committees or found employment with newspapers, schools/universities, and churches to voice their ideologies and support for women’s suffrage and equality for people of all races. The tireless efforts of women in the 19th century ultimately led to national recognition in the early 20th century, starting with the initiation of National Women’s Day.
National Women’s Day, which took place in New York City on February 28th, 1909, was established by suffragists and members of the Socialist Party and attracted a massive turnout of supporters. One of the goals of founding National Women’s Day was to convey that a woman’s duty existed both inside and outside the home and that women could make meaningful contributions to society.
In 1978, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women recognized the exclusion of women’s history in the general education curriculum and mainstream society. To rectify this, the commission implemented a Women’s History Week celebration. Women traveled to local schools to educate students on women’s history by giving presentations and allowing students to enter an annual Real Woman Essay Contest. A parade in Santa Rosa, California, then concluded women’s History Week.
In 1980, then President Jimmy Carter implemented a Presidential Proclamation which officially recognized the week of March 8th as Women’s History week nationwide. In the following years, states gradually began incorporating women’s history in their educational curriculum, and many political leaders at the local and state level widely supported their efforts.
March was officially declared Women’s History Month in March 1987 when Congress passed Public Law 100-9. In the 36 years since this law was passed, women have continued to prove that they are just as capable as their male counterparts of being elevated to prestigious positions and making impactful contributions to our world.