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Celebrating Progress and Perseverance: Women's History Month

Celebrating Progress and Perseverance: Women's History Month

Since 1987, the month of March has been recognized by the U.S. Congress as Women's History Month. Designed to recognize the contributions made by women to the U.S., this month also recognizes the achievements women have made in a variety of fields over the course of American history. These include women who fought for equal rights as well as women doctors, educators, child care providers, entertainers, and more. This month is also for recognizing women who are currently fighting for important issues, including reproductive rights, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ equality.

Significantly, this history month began as Women's History Week in 1978 -- which was itself selected to occur at the same time as International Women's Day. The importance of this week sparked a movement, and now Women's History Month is recognized as a time to reaffirm a commitment to improving rights and opportunities for not only women in the United States but women around the world.

Let's take a look back at the origins of Women's History Month, its milestones, and how historical women leaders have made an impact all over the world.

Many nonprofits and charities build their fundraising campaigns around Women's History Month to raise support and awareness of women's rights and opportunities. If you'd like to offer a fundraiser for your nonprofit, PayBee is an excellent fundraising platform for hosting donation campaigns, raffles, auctions, and peer-to-peer fundraisers.  

Recognizing Women's History    

While we've grown accustomed to having an entire month to recognizing women history, there was originally only one day to recognize women. Starting as National Women's Day, this day was first recognized on February 28, 1909 following a 1908 rally where 15,000 people marched in New York City to advocate for better pay, voting rights, and improved working hours.

Two years later, in 1911, the day became International Women's Day (having been observed by Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland) and began being celebrated on March 19th before being moved to the 8th.

This continued until 1978 when the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women, led by teacher Molly Murphy McGregor, held a Women's History Week in Santa Rosa, California. Their efforts proved popular and soon communities across the American nation were holding their own history week celebration to honor the accomplishments of women. Several women's groups and historians led by Gerda Lerner and the National Women's History Project lobbied for national recognition, and by 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring the week of March 8th 1980 as National Women's History Week 

By 1987, the week became a month-long celebration when Congress passed Public Law 100-9 which deemed the entire month of March as “Women’s History Month.” Since 1995, every U.S. president has issued proclamations to designate March as National Women's Month. 

American and International Women Achievements

While history books have often downplayed women achievements, women have been pioneers in many fields and helped changed the course of both American and world history.

Activists from the American women suffrage movement such as Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage who advocated for women equality are given a lot of recognition during this month. Likewise, First Ladies such as Jackie Kennedy, Michelle Obama, and Eleanor Roosevelt -- who spoke up for the civil rights movement from the White House and later helped pass the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- are recognized for being far more than the wives of famous presidents.

But it's not only historical figures or women in politics who get spotlighted. Interest and research on trailblazers like Amelia Earhart, who flew across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932 or Sally Ride, who became the first American woman in space, has also been increasing, as these pioneers have left their own mark on United States history.        

Outside the boundaries of the United States, many notable women are earning their own entries in the archives of famous woman achievements. Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 after surviving an assassination attempt in response to her advocacy for equal education in Pakistan for girls. In the world of entertainment, Grammy-winner Oumou Sangaré writes and composes songs inspired by the music of the Wassoulou region of West Africa. She uses her music to offer social criticism on women's low place in society, adding to a library of women achievements and women’s empowerment. 

Celebrating Women's History Around the World

International Women's Day is now celebrated in multiple countries, including the United Kingdom, Italy, and Romania as well as the United States. As such, different countries have their own ways of recognizing influential women.

In Romania, women’s history celebrations focus on mothers, and people tend to give cards and gifts to their mothers, grandmothers and friends with children. In China, employers are encouraged to give woman employees a half-day off. Meanwhile, in London, the Women of the World festival connects many women’s rights activists and performers to speak out about women's global issues. This has become a popular festival and is now held in many different parts of the world to recognize women's contributions to history and what still needs to be done to secure opportunities and equality for women.

Different Themes and Events to Promote Women's History

Each year, a different theme is chosen for Women's History Month to put the focus on different women’s historical achievements and women’s history figures. These themes are decided by the National Women's History Alliance, a nonprofit educational organization that encourages communities to center their Women's History Month celebrations around the annual theme. In the past, some notable women’s history month themes have included:

  • "An Extraordinary Century for Women 1900-2000" (2000)
  • "Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet" (2009)
  • "Women's Education - Women's Empowerment" (2012)
  • "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories" (2023)

Several museums, including The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, also hold exhibitions promoting influential women, women’s achievements, and equality milestones during March. In 2023, for instance, exhibits highlighting the role of African American women during the war as well as women’s history figures like the Civil War’s only female medal of honor recipient, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker were promoted. Meanwhile, the National Women's History Museum promotes women's history events all year round through online and in-person exhibits, including exhibits highlighting Black feminism in Washington DC and the role of Latinas in the women's suffrage movement.

Impact on Contemporary Culture

Women's History Month programs provides community and educational organizations a chance to remember and reflect on the work done by women in history, it also offers an opportunity to discuss what still needs to be done for gender equality. Many nonprofits and community organizations have hosted symposiums and seminars that bring women’s rights activists, speakers, and performers together to share their thoughts on the state of women rights both in the United States and other countries.

March also offers plenty of opportunities to raise money for charities and nonprofits that support women. From the Malala Fund, which helps support secondary education for girls around the world, to the Global Fund for Women which provides funding for women's rights initiatives, this is an excellent time to raise awareness of women's rights missions and ask for support.  

The Ongoing Struggle for Recognition

While many applaud Women's History Month for drawing attention to previously unacknowledged women pioneers and trailblazers, the month has also drawn criticism -- including from women historians. In a piece published in TIME, European historian Nancy Goldstone pointed out that by making women's history events and gender studies a separate subject covered only in specific exhibits or women's history programs, we are ignoring the fact that women accomplishments are still largely overlooked in mainstream history textbooks. 

Although learning about an obscure women doctor or engineer during International Women's Day is laudable, the fact that these women -- and many more -- are not mentioned in the history lessons students are taught every day in schools means they will continue to be unacknowledged. Goldstone argues that if the goal is true recognition and equality, then more work needs to be done to make the contributions and accomplishments of women common knowledge. 

Prominent Figures and Unsung Heroes

March has placed the spotlight on a library of feminist icons and unsung heroes. Here are just a few:

Martha Gellhorn

This American war correspondent was briefly married to Ernest Hemingway in the 1940s, but is better known for contributing photographs, news articles, and books after reporting all around the world. Today, a journalism award is named in her honor.

Frances Perkins

The first woman appointed to serve on the U.S. Cabinet, Perkins worked to start the federal minimum wage and end child labor. She also helped implement social security, creating many modern realities for the U.S. work force.

Susan Kare

You know the lasso tool in Photoshop? The gift icons in Facebook? Many were created by graphic designer Susan Kare, who made the Mac so user-friendly, although her contributions have largely been overshadowed by Steve Jobs.

FAQs

Why do we celebrate Women's History Month?

Women's history month is considered a time to recognize and celebrate women’s history milestones, further women’s advocacy, and increase opportunities for women’s history education.

Who started Women's History Month?

Many people played a role in creating a day, week, and month to recognize women accomplishments. Molly Murphy McGregor and the Education Task Force of Sonoma Country Commission on the Status of Women began Women's History Week in 1978 and the National Women's History Project later petitioned to have the entire month of March be designated Women's History Month in 1987.

What is the theme for Women's History Month this year?

Each Women's History Month is built around a different theme. In 2023, the theme is "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories." In 2024, it will be "Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion."

How can individuals and organizations participate in Women's History Month?

Women’s History Month participation includes taking part in special women’s history month events and celebrations held by women's groups and nonprofits, watch documentaries on women's history, sign petitions supporting better opportunities for women, donate to nonprofits supporting women, and more.

Moving Forward

Women's History Month remains an important time to celebrate the accomplishments of women and have open and honest discussions about the current state of women's rights and opportunities -- both in the U.S. and other world countries. While much has been accomplished in gender equality and women’s history recognition, a lot more still needs to be done, which is why it's so important to support women's rights movements, not only in the month of March but throughout the year.

One way to do this is by supporting the multiple charities and nonprofits that raise funds for women's initiatives, including education, health, economic stability, reproductive rights, and more. If you're interested in hosting nonprofit events and fundraisers to support such initiatives, PayBee can help. Our user-friendly fundraising platform allows you to build customized fundraising pages, host successful raffles and auctions, and promote your galas across popular social media platforms with just a few clicks. Sign up for our free demo to see how we can help you move forward!    

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