Origin of Women’s History Month

Elena Keller

With all that is crazy and hectic in the world right now (from quarantine to school shutdowns), it’s still important to recognize March as Women’s History Month. All the time that people have at home right now can be utilized to recognize female historical figures and their contributions. But how did Women’s History Month even come to be?

 

According to TIME magazine, Women’s History Month actually originated from the socialist and labor movements in the early 20th century. On February 28, 1909, the first Women’s Day was held in New York City to honor the one-year anniversary of the garment worker’s strikes, when thousands of women marched from Manhattan to Union Square.

 

After two years, this celebration spread to Europe, and according to History.com, the first International Women’s Day was held on March 8, 1911. On this day many countries celebrated with demonstrations or educational initiatives. In 1975, the United Nations began recognizing International Women’s day officially.

 

Meanwhile, back in the United States, some women were still upset with the lack of female representation in the history books. The Education Task Force of Sonoma County in California decided to create a Women’s History Week in 1978, timed around International Women’s Day.

 

Schools around the county held a “Real Women” essay contest, hundreds of female teachers gave presentations about women’s history in their classrooms, and the entire week ended with a parade in Santa Rosa, California.

 

In 1979, Molly Murphy MacGregor, one of the organizers of the Women’s History Week in Sonoma County, traveled to Sarah Lawrence College in New York for a conference with the Women’s History Institute. After hearing of the success in Sonoma, renowned historian Gerda Lerner, who was chair of the Women’s History Institute at the time, backed the Women’s History movement which subsequently spread across the country.

 

By 1980, President Jimmy Carter officially proclaimed the first National Women’s History Week for March 2-8. After already being extended to a month in several other states around the country, Congress officially named March as Women’s History Month in 1987.

 

Since then U.S. Presidents have made proclamations every year announcing what the theme for Women’s History Month is. This year’s theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote,” to honor the 100 year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in the United States.

 

Women’s History Month is a time to learn about oftentimes overlooked figures in history, such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Gloria Steinem, Hedy Lamarr, or Bessie Coleman. As Gerda Lerner said back in the 1980s, “Women’s history is women’s right—an essential, indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long range vision.”