The Purpose & History of National Women's History Month Provided by the National Women's History Project
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 for 1978. They chose the week of March 8 to make International Women's Day the focal point of the observance. The activities that were held met with enthusiastic response, and within a few years dozens of schools planned special programs for Women's History Week, over 100 community women participated in the Community Resource Project, an annual Real Women Essay contest drew hundreds of entries, and California was staging a marvelous annual parade and program in downtown Santa Rosa.
In 1979, Molly MacGregor, then the director of the Sonoma County CSW, was invited to participate in a Women's History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, attended by the national leadership of organizations for women and girls. When MacGregor told the other participants about the county-wide Women's History Week celebration, those leaders decided to initiate similar celebrations within their own organizations and school districts. They also agreed to support efforts to secure an official Congressional Resolution declaring a National Women's History Week. Together they achieved success. In 1981, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) cosponsored the first such Joint Congressional Resolution.
As word rapidly spread across the nation, equity specialists in many state departments of education, encouraged celebrations of National Women's History Week as an effective means to achieving equity goals within classrooms. Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, Alaska, and other states developed and distributed curriculum materials and program ideas to thousands of schools. Community-based Women's organizations sponsored essay contests and other special programs in their local areas. Within a few years, thousands of schools and communities were celebrating National Women's History Week, supported and encouraged by resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards, and the U.S. Congress.
The Entire Month of March
In 1987, at the request of museums, libraries, and educators across the country, the National Women's History Project asked Congress to expand the national celebration to the entire month of March, allowing more time to explore the increasingly accessible field of Women's history. Since then, the National Women's History Month Resolution has been approved with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Each year, programs and activities in schools and communities have become more extensive as information and program ideas have been developed and shared.
Growing Interest in Women's History
The popularity of Women's history celebrations has sparked a new interested in uncovering Women's forgotten heritage. Many states and cities have instituted a Women's Hall of Fame, or have published biographical materials about prominent women in the history of their particular locale. In many areas, state historical societies, Women's organizations, and groups such as the Girl Scouts have worked together to develop joint NWHM programs. The efforts of educators, workplace program planners, parents, and community organizations in thousands of U.S. communities have turned National Women's History Month into a major celebration and a springboard for celebrating Women's history all year 'round.
For more information about National Women's History Month, or to receive a copy of the Women's History Resources catalog, contact the National Women's History Alliance, P.O. Box 469, Santa Rosa, CA 95402, (707) 636-2888, or click here.