Remembering Women in March – Who and Why?

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March is Women’s History Month. This week’s post reflects on what that might mean to each of us.

Designating a time to focus on the role of women got its start with the first International Women’s Day on March 8, 1911. In the United States, the School Board in Sonoma County CA expanded attention to women’s history from one day to a week of events in 1978. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 National Women’s History Week in the United States. In 1987, Congress made this celebration permanent and expanded it to the full month of March.

One facet of women’s history is the fight for equal rights. Abigail Adams, wife of “Founding Father” John Adams exhorted her husband in a letter of March 31, 1776, to pay attention to women’s rights at the Continental Congress. She wrote: “Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Milestones in this 250-year fight for equality include the July 1848 Seneca Falls Convention attended by 68 women and 32 men (including Frederick Douglas).  Breakthroughs in the 1900’swere led by prominent women like Elizabeth Blackwell, Sojourner Truth, Margaret Sanger, Jeanette Rankin and Amelia Earhart.

In 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. Their work led to the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote.

Besides honoring the fight for equal rights, Women’s History Month is an opportunity to call attention to and learn about women who contributed to major breakthroughs in science, education, health, economic development and other fields. Media of all kinds assist in this learning by highlighting the accomplishments of little-known women who played a major role. In the business world, Business Insider listed 17 unknown women who changed the world. Refinery 29, “a creative global platform for young people,” has its own list of 17 little known and underappreciated women.

In reflecting on women in history, I am reminded of how messy life is and how important courage is. Indeed, it took and still does take courage to persist in fields dominated by men. Any woman who is recognized for a major accomplishment has her own story of the cost required to make that contribution to society.  

 A celebrated woman writer Toni Morrison summed up the human struggle in her novel Song of Solomon: “Perhaps that’s what all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? Or would you take it?”

Each of us each day makes choices that affirm life – a just, equitable life – for ourselves and others and /or choices that drag ourselves and our communities down. I look at Women’s History Month as an opportunity to be grateful for all the women who have contributed to our collective quality of life. That is a big list!