Women’s History Month is a national, month-long observance of the often overlooked contributions of women in history and contemporary society. In the United States it is celebrated in March to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8th. The first National Women’s History Month was celebrated in 1987, but it was celebrated by smaller communities long before then. The process took years of hard work and lobbying by women to gain the recognition they deserved.
In 1979, a fifteen-day conference co-sponsored by Sarah Lawrence, the Women’s Action Alliance, and the Smithsonian Institution was held at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. The conference was organized by one of the professors at the college, Gerda Lerner. Her goal was to introduce female leaders with diverse backgrounds to the possibilities of women’s history. Lerner, along with historians Alice Kessler-Harris and Amy Swerdlow, challenged the participants to create one large group project. Their chosen project was to make the celebration of Women’s History Week, an event already celebrated by some schools, communities, and women’s organizations, a national event.
At the end of the conference, the women returned to their homes all across the country and began the campaign for a National Women’s History Week. They planned and scheduled publicly sponsored women’s history programs at both the local and national level. The women successfully lobbied for national recognition, and in February of 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week.
Subsequent presidents continued to proclaim a National Women’s History Week in March for the next several years. The popularity grew, and schools across the United States started their own local celebrations of Women’s History Week, and even expanding into the entire month of March. By 1986, fourteen states declared March as Women’s History Month, and finally, in 1987, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as Women’s History Month nationally.
The National Women’s History Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring and preserving women’s history, and a large contributor to the fight for a nationally recognized month, selects the yearly theme and honorees for Women’s History Month. The 2020 theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote” in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. The theme honors women “from the original suffrage movement as well as 20th and 21st century women who have continued the struggle (fighting against poll taxes, literacy tests, voter roll purges, and other more contemporary forms of voter suppression) to ensure voting rights for all.” The 2020 honorees include Maria Teresa Kumar, Edith Mayo, Lucy Burns, Carrie Chapman Catt, and many other incredible women who have fought and continue to fight for voting rights for everyone. Click HERE for more information on this year’s theme and honorees.
You can learn more about women’s history, and celebrate Women’s History Month, by checking out our collection of books about women’s contributions to history and society! Click on any title to learn more!