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The Origin of Women’s History Month

It is March of 2021. Women’s History Month. A very special Women’s History Month, indeed. This year’s observation of Women’s History Month marks the 40th anniversary of the proclamation of the national celebration. We observe Women’s History Month to honor the trailblazing women who came before us, who paved the way towards gender equality, who broke the glass ceiling. But what is the origin story of Women’s History Month as a national celebration? Why has it only become a ‘hot topic’ in recent years? 

Our story begins in the 1970s in Sonoma, California, with school teacher Holly McGregor. McGregor was furious at the lack of female history that appeared in the textbooks used in her school. In 1978, she founded a Women’s History Week celebration in her school district, and the celebration began to catch on across the state, and eventually, the nation. In the earliest days of this celebration, students would participate in an essay contest, and a parade would be held in Santa Rosa, California. In 1981, President Jimmy Carter made a proclamation that the week of March 8th would commemorate National Women’s History Week. Furthermore, President Ronald Reagan issued an annual proclamation for the observation of the week. 

It took a few years for Women’s History Week to transform into the Women’s History Month that we are familiar with today. It was not until 1987 that Congress designated the entire month of March to the observation of Women’s History Month. Prior to Congress’ decision, the Women’s National History Project lobbied for years for a longer national holiday. The dedication to the observation of this holiday did not end there. Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed a series of resolutions that required the sitting president to proclaim the month of March as National Women’s History Month each year. 

Long before the proclamation of Women’s History Month as a national holiday in the United States of America, March 8th was designated as International Women’s Day. This holiday was first observed in 1911; we are celebrating the 110th anniversary this year. While Women’s History Month largely commemorates the feats of American women throughout history, International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women across the globe, as well as the contributions of everyday women and girls. International Women’s Day is observed globally, with many annual demonstrations and customs taking place to honor women and girls. The United Nations has sponsored this holiday since 1975.

Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance adds a theme to the Women’s History Month celebration. According to the History Channel’s website, his year’s theme is ‘Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced.’ The theme is said to have been chosen in recognition of the women’s suffrage movement and the passage of the 19th amendment which granted women the right to vote in 1920.

Many people wonder why March was the month in which Women’s History Month was selected to be observed. March is a month that marks a turning point in the weather, where we begin to see plants springing up prematurely — but what does this have to do with women’s history? Well, in 1908, thousands of suffragettes gathered in New York City to march for the right to vote. The event was organized by members of the Socialist Party. The date of this historical march was February 28th. As we know, Black History Month is observed during February (and has been since 1926), so it was only fitting that Women’s History Month be held in March — a day after the New York march was held. Holly McGregor’s original celebration of Women’s History Week in Sonoma aligned with the date of International Women’s Day. 

Please do not ignore the fact that March is Women’s History Month. If you are not a person who regularly consumes feminist art or literature, I encourage you to give it a try this week. Without women, our world could, quite literally, not function. We need to always be thinking about the women who came before us, who fought for the rights that we have today. Of course, we still have a long way to go, but history is made every day. While this month is nationally dedicated to Women’s History Month, I encourage everyone — regardless of gender — to celebrate the achievements of women everyday.

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