March is Women’s History Month and in honor of that, celebrations, marches, demonstrations and events of all kinds occur each year at this time all over America. But it hasn’t always been that way — not by a long shot.
As Molly Murphy MacGregor, executive director and co-founder of the National Women’s History Project, points out, “As recently as the 1970s, women’s history was virtually an unknown topic in the K-12 curriculum or in general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County [California] Commission on the Status of Women initiated a ‘Women’s History Week’ celebration in 1978."
MacGregor says the week of March 8, International Women’s Day — which has been celebrated since the early 1900s — was chosen as the focal point of the observance.
“The local Women’s History Week activities met with enthusiastic response, and dozens of schools planned special programs for Women’s History Week,” MacGregor adds. “Over 100 community women participated by doing special presentations in classrooms throughout the country and the finale for the week was a celebratory parade and program held in the center of downtown Santa Rosa, California.”
MacGregor was one of those women and in 1979 she was invited to participate in The Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, which was chaired at that time by noted historian, Gerda Lerner and attended by the national leaders of organizations for women and girls.
As MacGregor explains, “When the participants learned about the success of the Sonoma County’s Women’s History Week celebration, they decided to initiate similar celebrations within their own organizations, communities, and school districts. They also agreed to support an effort to secure a ‘National Women’s History Week,’ and the seed they planted in American consciousness back then eventually grew into our national Women’s History Month."
In 1980 President Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential Proclamation that designated the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week.
Then US Representative Barbara Mikulski — who went on to become a US senator and the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress — and Senator Orin Hatch brought forth a Congressional Resolution to formally designate Women’s History Week in 1981.
In Carter’s proclamation he summed up the need for such formal recognition of the contribution of American women, saying in part, “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”
State Departments of Education in several states soon realized that encouraging schools to celebrate Women’s History Month was a good tool to help encourage equality in their classrooms, and in addition, a nationwide grassroots movement grew out of all that was taking place in the states.
By 1986, Women’s History Month had been declared in 14 states and with sheer volume of that momentum and lobbying efforts, Congress declared March as Women’s History Month in the Untied State in perpetuity. From Carter’s time to now, each year the sitting president recognizes and honors the achievements of American women in a Presidential Proclamation. President Trump signed this year’s proclamation on March 1.
For the remaining month, the E-T will publish Sunday features on local women who played a big role in the evolution of Stephenville.