Women's History Month
On the Bright Side
March 18, 2023
March is National Women's History Month here in the United States, which is also just a small part of a global celebration; International Woman's Day, March 8, is a celebration of women and their accomplishments observed annually, world-wide.
The beginnings of the month's celebrations in our country can be traced back to 1848 when women were barred from speaking at an anti-slavery convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott got a few hundred people together for the nation's first women's rights convention in New York City. They demanded civil, social, political and religious rights for women in a Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. The movement was born.
Later, on March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City protested against inhumane working conditions and low wages. Police attacked and broke up the protesters but the movement continued, and the first women's labor union was created.
Later still, on March 8, 1908, once again in New York City, in the midst of great debates about the oppression of women in general, 15,000 women marched in New York City demanding shorter work hours, better pay, and voting rights. Originating from a speech by suffragette and activist Helen Todd, the slogan "Bread and Roses" came out of that march, with bread symbolizing economic security and roses symbolizing better living standards.
Now, International Women's Day is recognized and celebrated in many countries, both developed and developing alike, all around the world. Also nowadays, every year in the United States, March is designated Women's History Month by presidential proclamation. The month is set aside to honor women's contributions in American history, and women's contributions to society in general.
Interestingly enough, there is a California connection to the designation and festivities. Women's History Month actually began as a local, week-long event in Santa Rosa when, in 1978, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a "Women's History Week" celebration. The week was planned to coincide with the March 8 International Women's Day, and the idea spread to other communities across the country to make their own celebratory weeks the following year.
In 1980, the National Women's History Project (now known as the National Women's History Alliance, a consortium of women's groups and historians) lobbied successfully for national recognition. President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation in February 1980, declaring the Week of March 8, 1980, as National Women's History Week.
The proclamation was signed annually over the next few years; then in 1987 Congress passed a law designating the whole month of March as Women's History Month. Through the years to the present, Congress has continued to pass resolutions and presidents have continued to annually proclaim March to be Women's History Month.
Not much locally happens to commemorate this special month, but actually a lot does happen that we can enjoy. Televisions broadcasts are dedicated to bringing forth women's stories, telling us about women in history that we did not learn about in school, and telling us about women who are making history today. Women are much more visible in sports of all kinds these days, as players, as coaches, as officials, as owners. Movies are being made about women that we've never heard of but who have had a profound influence on our lives today. Glass ceilings are shattering in the business world.
I could write a whole book full of women's stories and contributions but instead I'll just encourage you to do your own research. There are so many stories out there, and the Internet is a great place to find many of them. An even better place to find them is to talk to your mother or aunt, or grandmother or female neighbor, and get first-hand accounts of women's wide-ranging and significant histories.
And don't limit yourself to just finding out about women's stories in the month of March; women and their contributions and accomplishments should be learned about and recognized daily, year-round.
© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel, author of the book On the Bright Side, a Collection of Columns (available locally at Tehachapi Arts Center and Healthy Hippie Trading Co), has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at email@example.com.