Finding our history
On the Bright Side
March 19, 2022
March is designated Women's History Month by presidential proclamation, but historically speaking, it hasn't been designated so for very long.
It all started with the United States celebrating a National Women's Day in 1908 and succeeding years, to joining a celebration of International Women's Day in 1975 (begun in 1909 in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Germany), and grew from Women's History Week (1982) in the U.S. to being proclaimed National Women's History Month in 1987.
I didn't even know there was such a thing as International Women's Day until I moved to Marin County and was invited by new friends to attend a celebration of the day in San Francisco on March 8, 1980. It made such an impression on me that I remember it like it was yesterday. Since then I've celebrated many IWDs, sometimes as a participant, sometimes as a vendor of t-shirts and other various feminist products, sometimes as a singer/songwriter on stage.
Nowadays I find I don't go out to celebrate as much as I used to but rather I spend more time learning about the many, many women who have contributed to history. You know, the ones we never learned about in school. And thanks to the internet and modern movies, I have learned a lot.
For instance, I learned about Sybil Ludington, a 16-year-old girl who, in 1777, rode her horse 40 miles one night in pouring rain to alert American militiamen that the British were preparing an attack. I've also learned about another 16-year-old, Betsy Dowdy, who did much the same thing – riding her swift pony Black Bess 50 miles through a night in 1775 to warn Colonial Troops of an impending attack (and thus changing in our favor the results of the Battle of the Great Bridge). Why do we only learn of Paul Revere in school, who rode only 16 miles and with a buddy?
I already knew about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League and its players, but I've also learned about Jackie Mitchell, a 17-year old baseball pitcher who struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhrig on numerous occasions. I know about Susan B. Anthony and many other suffragettes but I've also learned about Elizabeth Peratrovich, a member of the Tlingit nation who worked for women's and Native American rights and has a day in her honor (celebrated even today) in Alaska; I've also learned about Emmaline Pankhurst who was active in the U.K. in getting women the vote over there.
So many important stories we've never heard. But then I've also learned how much has changed for women over the past few decades, and I'm sometimes shocked about the things I've learned as I was alive and aware through those decades and I still didn't know how much was changing all around me.
For instance, before the early 1970s (when I was in my last year of college) I've found out that a woman couldn't get or hold a credit card in her own name (even divorced or widowed women usually needed a male co-signer). In many cases, a woman couldn't serve on a jury (exceptions include Utah, a state that allowed women to serve on juries starting in 1879).
A woman could get fired from her job for getting pregnant, and sexual harassment in the workplace was legal and pretty commonly accepted. A woman could not legally decide to decline having sex with her husband (spousal rape was not a criminal offense in all 50 states until 1993), and she needed her husband's permission to take birth control pills.
We've come a long way, baby, and we still have a long way to go. I've learned so much, and I still have so much more to learn. Our history may have been forgotten or hidden, but it hasn't been lost. It is there for the finding. It is there for us to celebrate and learn from. It is there for us to contribute to.
So we will keep on keepin' on. We will not be silent. We will keep working and marching and singing. We will keep learning and educating. We will keep on finding our stories and sharing them. We will keep on celebrating women and women's history.
© 2022 Marilda Mel White. Mel White, local writer and photographer, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.