For a long time, women's achievements and impact on society had been largely unrecognized. However, things began changing rapidly over the past century. And since 1980, Women's History Month has become an annual celebration in the United States and across the world. Let's take a look back, shall we?
Until recently, women's stories, struggles, and accomplishments had been excluded from history books. "In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn't exist," Gerda Lerner, a historian at New York's Sarah Lawrence College, told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. She also added that she strongly felt that this view didn't align with the reality she experienced every day. Even the textbooks that did include women's history concealed prominent parts of it. One example is a book that mentioned Congress giving women the right to vote in 1920, but failing to acknowledge the work of pioneering advocates who fought for this civil right.
The past few decades saw women's history go from being an overlooked concept to an important academic discipline. Educator Molly Murphy MacGregor at California's Sonoma State University introduced women's history into various topics. These included politics, environmental activism, and the abolitionist movements - which she realized gave her students a refreshed sense of pride and interest in women's history. But that wasn't enough - she wanted to ensure students invested time in reading books that involved the history of women. She and her colleagues decided to launch the first-ever Women's History Week, which included a parade, a presentation, and the distribution of curriculum materials for local schools. It eventually became the National Women's History Project (now the National Women's History Alliance).
In time, the group would begin to lobby the federal government to recognize women's history. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the first National Women's History Week from March 2 to 8, which marked the NWHP's first official victory. "Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people," the president stated. Shortly after came the project's second milestone, when Congress passed a bipartisan bill declaring the whole month of March Women's History Month. There's certainly a lot more work that has to be done. But looking back at the progress made, we can definitely say we've come a long way.