The History of Women’s Month
Written by Claudia Ugbana
A look into the history of why women are celebrated through the month of March.
Women’s History Month is a celebration of women everywhere, along with their achievements and contributions to society. This month also serves as a reminder of the women who fought for several years and gained the rights for women to vote and hold positions in office. Most importantly, Women’s History Month serves as a symbol of how women have made — and continue to make — paramount additions all around the world.
The presidential proclamation of Women’s History Month was a long and courageous battle which took many years to achieve, and has evolved over time. What began as a single day to acknowledge women across the world, was later turned into a week long celebration, before the month of March was officially dedicated to womankind.
Women’s history celebrations began as a local festivity in Santa Rosa, California, over four decades ago. In 1978, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration, to line up with International Women’s Day: one day in the year dedicated to the celebration of all kinds of women. The local women, men and children enthusiastically participated in special contests and classroom presentations that drew in hundreds of entries. However, women celebrating the week in various parts of the country was simply not enough, so the women lobbied law officials to make this proclamation official.
Women's History Month is a celebration of women everywhere along with their achievements and contributions to society.
In 1980, a combination of women’s groups and historians lobbied for national recognition. They were successfully granted approval when President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation, and thus, Women’s History Week was created. As the celebration spread across the nation, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon and Alaska were just a few of the states that developed and distributed a curriculum that encompassed the history of women. As the years passed, many states across the nation adopted National Women’s History Week on different dates, until 1986. A total of 14 U.S. states had adopted the national holiday by that year, causing a state-by-state action to lobby Congress into declaring the month of March National Women’s History Month by 1987.
The U.S. was not the only country that fought for a change in the world, however. In 1908, the famous Women’s Day March in New York City piqued the interests of a German socialist in Europe named Clara Zetkin. She presented the idea at a women’s conference, gaining the approval of 100 women who were in attendance. From that conference, International Women’s Day was then acknowledged by 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland.
In several countries all across the world, the movement spread and took life in many different ways, from thousands of women gathering to march in New York City, to a group of many different women from 17 different countries in Europe, to the presidential proclamation of a month-long celebration. Women’s History Month has become a worldwide event to honor the women who started it all; however, the celebration has since evolved.
In today’s modern world, Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day are celebrated in varying ways. The National Women’s History Alliance (NWHA) has declared an annual theme for the month, dating back to the very beginning of its declaration. This year’s theme, an ode to the recent election and a continuation from 2020’s theme, is Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced.
Although this theme accurately describes the past year, it remains timely, as we can look back at the many female activists who refused to be silenced over the years. We can look at examples such as Alice Paul, who led the women’s suffrage movement, Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded the National Council of Negro Women and paved the way for Black women, and most recently, Stacey Abrams, who helped register at least 800,000 new voters in the state of Georgia for the 2020 presidential election.
The theme has varied over the many years and has been created by other organizations dedicated to uplifting and celebrating women. The United Nations (UN) has sponsored the annual holiday, observed in several countries all around the world since 1975. When adopting the responsibility of the observance of International Women’s Day, the UN cites its reasons as, “a move to recognize the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women; and to acknowledge the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security.”
Other important milestones for women declared in the month of March:
The U.S. Senate passed Title IX on March 1, 1972, a law which prohibits sex discrimination in all federally funded education programs.
The Equal Rights Amendment was also passed by the senate on March 22, 1972, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing rights regardless of a person’s sex.
The first women’s suffrage parade took place in Washington, D.C. on March 3, 1913.
A political group dedicated to women’s suffrage named The National Woman’s Party was officially formed in March 1917.
The National Council of Women of the U.S. was officially formed on March 31, 1888.
An organization established to highlight the contributions made by Catholic women into society was created on March 8, 2014. Thus, National Catholic Sisters Week was created.
The first Girl Scouts meeting was held in Savannah, Georgia, on March 12, 1912.
Camp Fire Girls, the very first interracial, non-sectarian American organization for girls was established on March 17, 1910.
The Martha Washington Hotel became the first women-only hotel to be opened in New York City on March 2, 1903.