The Story of Women’s History Month: “Women’s History is Women’s Right”

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Image from National Women’s History Alliance

On February 28, 1980 President Jimmy Carter cited Dr. Gerda Lerner, a prominent American historian and author on women’s history when he declared, “Women’s History is Women’s Right.” In this same presidential proclamation he designated the week of March 2-8 National Women’s History Week, setting the precedent for the annual celebration of women’s history throughout the month of March.

Although rooted in the women’s rights movements that had been occurring for decades, efforts supporting the observance of National Women’s History Month began in the 1970s with Molly MacGregor, an active participant in the National Women’s History Alliance. Time Magazine’s article, “This is How March Became National Women’s History Month,” detailed the founding of this holiday. It stated that after MacGregor took part in the movement to recognize National Women’s History Week, she attended various conferences at Dr. Gerda Lerner’s Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. MacGregor was then able to encourage President Jimmy Carter to formally recognize National Women’s History Month.

In his proclamation Carter shared many of the same values for women’s rights as the National Women’s History Alliance and he even stated, “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 were as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”

Since then every president has followed suit by issuing a presidential proclamation pronouncing March National Women’s History Month to honor women across the nation.

In helping to create a meaningful celebration, the National Women’s History Alliance presents a theme unique to that month of March for that year. On their official website they published that past themes have included “Nevertheless She Persisted,” “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence,” and “Valiant Women of the Vote” in 2020. For the 35th annual celebration the organization chose “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” for its 2022 theme. They said they were aiming to capture the persistence of women throughout the enduring pandemic and the countless contributions of women in current social issues.

In recognition of this month many institutions across the nation provide opportunities to express the history of women’s perseverance. For example, many schools participate in essay writing competitions and presentations, and even a parade, which was started in Santa Rosa in 1978 and continues today.

Every woman has a unique and heroic story full of struggle, perseverance, and courage. While it is important to recognize individuals throughout the year, March is National Women’s History Month, a time for all of us to celebrate and reflect on the empowering women of our nation. For more information visit the National Women’s History Alliance website, nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org.