From Lois Page, LWVA
Women and History
For centuries women have been excluded from history books, perhaps in part because men were writing them. Interestingly enough, ancient Greek history seems to abound with interesting women but for centuries after silence prevailed. For K-12 curriculum throughout the country, women’s history was an unknown topic. Until very recently, history books in Virginia devoted one paragraph to the suffrage movement. Even now, fewer than 8% of all U.S memorials recognize women.
As might be expected, California led the way in changing things, according to the website of the National Women’s History Project, when the Education Task Force of the Sonoma (CA) Commission on the Status of Women “initiated a “Women’s History Week” celebration for 1978.
“The week March 8th, International Women’s Day was chosen as the focal point of the observance. The local Women’s History Week activities met with enthusiastic response, and dozens of schools planned special programs for Women’s History Week. Over one-hundred community, women participated by doing special presentations in classrooms throughout the country and an annual “Real Woman” Essay Contest drew hundreds of entries. The finale for the week was a celebratory parade and program held in the center of downtown Santa Rosa, California.
Soon the word was out about the success of the California event, with a special impetus coming from the Women’s History Institute of Sarah Lawrence College. Of course, it was the 70’s!
The website continues, “The first steps toward success came in February 1980 when President Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th, 1980 as National Women’s History Week. In the same year, Representative Barbara Mikulski, who at the time was in the House of Representatives, and Senator Orrin Hatch co-sponsored a Congressional Resolution for National Women’s History Week 1981. This co-sponsorship demonstrated the wide-ranging political support for recognizing, honoring, and celebrating the achievements of American women.
“Within a few years, thousands of schools and communities were celebrating National Women’s History Week, supported and encouraged by resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards, and the U.S. Congress. Each year, the dates of National Women’s History Week, (the week of March 8th) changed and every year a new lobbying effort was needed.
“By 1986, 14 states had already declared March as Women’s History Month. This momentum and state-by-state action was used as the rationale to lobby Congress to declare the entire month of March 1987 as National Women’s History Month. In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women.”
Among the incredible achievements of American women, of course, was the passage of the 19th amendment. The names of Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, Alice Paul, and our own Carrie Chapman Catt need a huge chapter in every history book. “They engineered the greatest expansion of democracy on a single day the world had ever seen . . .” – Eleanor Clift, author of Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment. Acclaim goes to the five million suffragists who fought for 72 years to win the right for all women to vote.”
Several current efforts in Virginia seek to underline women’s place in history. Groundbreaking on the grounds of the state Capitol in Richmond to build the Virginia Women’s Monument, a series of statues of accomplished Virginia Women called “Voices from the Garden.” And on the site of the imprisonment of suffragists in southern Fairfax County site work in underway on the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, a garden style memorial that tells the history of the suffrage movement.
The Women’s History Project website concludes, “Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people. This goal can be achieved by ratifying the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “Equality of Rights under the Law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” (Molly Murphy MacGregor, Executive Director)