On February 28, 1980, President Jimmy Carter wrote: "From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this Nation. Too often, the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed."
These words, part of his message establishing the first Women's History Week in 1980, marked the beginning of a new chapter in American history. It was finally time to give recognition to women and their work and to promote their rights.
But before President Carter deemed an entire week dedicated to women, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission of the Status of Women began their own “Women’s History Week” in 1978. They chose the week to coincide with March 8, known as International Women’s Day. A year later, it became a 2-week long conference and sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute and others.
It was a natural progression from 1980 to 1987, when March was designated as Women's History Month. Over the next several years, Congress would pass more laws that request and authorize the President to proclaim March as Women’s History Month. And all U.S Presidents have issued annual proclamations to that effect ever since 1988.
But this isn’t just an American declaration. Women’s contribution to society and history is observed in Australia and the United Kingdom. In Canada, they chose the month of October.
Each year, a theme coincides with the celebration. The first theme, in 1987, was “Generations of Courage, Compassion and Conviction”. And this year, “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence” has taken to the marquee.
To engage in the celebration, you can buy a book of stamps to commemorate notable women or donate money to the public library so they can buy a book on women’s history. You can also give your child a biography of someone notable such as Gertrude Stein, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton or Ella Baker.
To further the cause, write a letter to the President’s Commission on the Celebration of Women in History encouraging the establishment of a National Museum of Women’s History for the Washington, DC area.
The purpose of this month-long celebration is to increase the consciousness and knowledge of women in history. View the Women’s History Month website for more information.