When Did Women's History Month Start?
When did Women’s History Month start?
With this hub, I’ll be starting a new collection of articles on women – our history, achievements and the challenges we still face.
Readers of a certain age no doubt remember how little recognition – even acknowledgement – women received for their achievements before the women’s movement. To combat this, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women began a “Women’s History Week” in 1978. The Commission chose the week of March 8, International Women’s Day.
Celebrating women’s history grew from there. In 1979, national leaders of organizations for women and girls attended the Women's History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. After learning about the Sonoma County project, these leaders initiated similar celebrations within their organizations and communities. A year later, President Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women's History Week.
By 1986, 14 states had declared March as Women’s History Month. After much urging, in 1987, Congress declared March as National Women's History Month and today Women’s History Month is celebrated nation-wide.
The “F” word
The subject of feminism and feminists can’t be ignored when discussing women’s history or women’s issues.
What is a feminist?
Can a woman who doesn’t work for pay outside the home be a feminist? I always considered myself to be one and I stayed home with my two boys until the younger one entered high school. A 1994 term paper I wrote for a women’s studies course was titled “Feminist Mothers.” In it, I argued that motherhood and feminism were not diametrically opposed and that the women’s movement was making a mistake by “dissing” mothers.
Personally, I don’t like to read about battles in the “mommy wars.” When women are divided between “stay-at-home moms” and “working moms,” or even “non-moms” – regardless of the rationale or reasons behind their decisions – then we lose sight of the challenges that all women still face.
Can a man be a feminist? I consider my brother to be one. He took his wife’s maiden name as his middle name. In and of itself that doesn’t make him a feminist, of course. Feminism is more a way of thinking, a belief that women should have the same political, economic, and social rights and opportunities afforded to men. His actions and attitudes, along with being an avowed pacifist, make him a feminist, in my opinion.
Aviva DV, a blogger on fourthwavefeminism relates the following anecdote in a post titled Adventures in Women’s Studies 101.
“I asked my women's studies class how many of them consider themselves feminists; one student raised her hand (out of 60). When I asked them if they believe women and men should be equal in society, everyone raised their hands. This was a perfect set-up for talking about the antifeminist backlash.”
There are a lot of reasons for the backlash – religious views that hold women should be submissive to men, a belief that women working outside the home will take jobs from male breadwinners, that the women’s movement has led to pornography, homosexuality and casual sex. And sometimes just plain old misogyny.
My intent with this series is to bring historical facts and current topics to the forefront, not to polarize readers with opinion. Although I am a white, once middle-class, middle-aged woman, my goal is to bring into the picture the histories, struggles and triumphs of all women, regardless of age, nationality, political and religious views and class status. I hope that readers will take away from each hub some tidbit of information that is new to them or a better awareness of the challenges and discriminatory practices women still face.
Although we celebrate Women’s History Month once a year in March, recognition of our accomplishments and the challenges we continue to face should be year-round.