Women have made significant contributions toward making society what it is today. In the US, UK, and Australia, Women’s History Month acknowledges and celebrates these contributions.
In 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held. In 1978, the Sonoma, California School District spawned the first Women’s History Week, commencing annually on March 8th. In 1979, Sarah Lawrence College hosted a two-week conference centered on women’s history. When its participants were informed of the success of the Sonoma County’s Women’s History Week celebration, they started similar commemorations in their organizations and school districts.
Women’s History Week became a national day of celebration in the US in 1980 when then President Jimmy Carter, issued a presidential proclamation reading, 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. I ask my fellow Americans to recognize this heritage with appropriate activities during National Women’s History Week, March 2–8, 1980.” Subsequently, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) introduced the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a Women’s History Week.
By 1986, fourteen states extended the celebration to the entire month of March, declaring it Women’s History Month. In 1987, the National Women’s History Project passed a bill officially declaring March Women’s History Month.
Women’s History Month remains significant because far too many women remain unacknowledged for the roles they played in leadership, advocacy and civic change. Recognizing, applauding and encouraging the promotion of the roles of these unsung heroes paves the way for succeeding generations. The people we admire in our youth become the ones we emulate. Knowing that something is possible and that others have gone ahead of us makes it easier to embark on the path toward making great strides of our own. The actions, activities, and achievements of women in distant and recent history deserve to take their places beside the great men of history.
Women’s History Month is gaining traction all over the world. In 1992, Canada initiated its first celebration. Australia followed suit in 2000. Women’s History Month was also celebrated in the UK in 2011 and 2012, although no further annual celebrations have taken place in the UK. Women’s history celebrations continue to grow in popularity as more and more people are made aware of the notable contributions of women and girls.
Long revered for their beauty, women and girls must learn from as early an age as possible that our contribution to the world we live in is bigger than beauty alone. Melinda Gates summed the significance of making the world aware of women’s roles in history and in the future by saying, “When women and girls are empowered to participate fully in society, everyone benefits.”