March 9, 2010 / Opportunity, Women's History

Why Writing Women Back Into History Matters


March is Women’s History Month! My favorite time of year… Official recognition of women’s history began 30 years ago with then-President Carter’s 1980 Presidential Proclamation recognizing the first Women’s History Week. Seven years later the week was expanded to a month. This was a critical and necessary step for the progress of women, especially because women had been excluded from history, or subject to sexist treatment when they were included. The theme of Women’s History Month this year is Writing Women Back into History, something that is desperately needed, and much to my delight, is happening.

womancollagenew_r2_c1I was a 22 year old young mother of a daughter when my eyes were opened to the subject of women’s history. I took a class in American women’s history in 1994 to fill a general education requirement at the community college I attended. When I started that class I had no idea that women did not have the right to vote until 1920, nor did I know anything about the long and arduous fight to get there. I was not even familiar with Abigail Adam’s famous plea to her husband to “remember the ladies.” I had never heard the term “Rosie the Riveter,” nor was I aware of the first or second wave of feminist progress. I knew that Susan B. Anthony had once been on the silver dollar, but I did not know what she had done to earn that brief honor. In short, I knew nothing of women’s history.

Dr. Anne Kearney, bless her beautiful heart, spent the semester catching up 29 adult females and one adult male on the history they’d missed out in elementary, middle, and high schools they attended, whether they were public or private. Over the course of four months we were introduced to Phillis Wheatley, Republican Mothers, Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Eliza Pinckney, The Grimke’ sisters, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Rosie the Riveter, and many, many others. And I began to see over the course of those four months how my present and future had been paid for by the hard work of these incredible women.

It changed me. Forever. It gave me a perspective I will never forget or lose sight of. Suddenly I understood something about my place in the world, and suddenly I knew of women who had done incredible things. It made me feel that I could too. Learning about women from my own nation’s history made me determined to educate people on this topic, and join the struggle to continue to create that history. This is the power of writing women back into history. Changing perspectives and lives with knowledge inevitably alters the trajectory of our future. And as you can see from the links, people are writing women back into history.

Every effort at social change must include some way to educate people. If people don’t know there is a problem, they will not know to fix it. Furthermore, it takes incredible intelligence and character to strike out on your own, to buck trends and social conventions, to carve out a new path. Being the first person to take a risk is so daunting and scary that even Copernicus turned it down.  We love to talk to of trailblazing and individualism in our country, but precious few of us are actually able to realize that common value. There is often little need to. We already have plenty of role models for women in many areas of life; we just need to make girls and women aware of them. We are when we help build this movement, recognizing that women’s history is a persuasive way to educate all Americans about women and their accomplishments, as well as their current needs.

The greatest beneficiary of my education in women’s history has been my daughter. Her entire childhood has been steeped in these stories, and she is always reporting to me when she is exposed to the topic. At 16, she is well versed enough and unafraid enough to bring the subject up herself in class, and to ask her teachers what they are doing for women’s history month in the classroom. She is why I keep writing women back into history. What are you doing this month to help write women back into history?