This March marks the 30th edition of Women’s History Month – a tradition that began in 1987, when Ronald Reagan expanded Jimmy Carter’s Women’s History Week. Every year, there’s the same debate, repeated in similar iterations for African American History Month, National Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month and the like: why do we only celebrate “women’s history” for one month, instead of the entire year?
Good question. American women have not only been a part of our national history since our founding; they have been integral to it. In “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation,” Cokie Roberts shares the stories of the wives and daughters of the Founding Fathers and their unique and invaluable contributions during the American Revolution that secured our independence – from fundraising and educating, to taking charge running farms and estates while men were away fighting in the war.
Despite their indispensable role, history has not always “remembered the ladies” or “valued our contributions,” as Abigail Adams reminded her husband, John Adams, in her famous 1776 letter. Her words have aged well: “I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs.”
Arguments against Women’s History Month are often that it continues to marginalize women’s role in history. By declaring March, Women’s History Month, we relegate women to just one month of the year, similar to the sub-sections of American history textbook chapters women of history find themselves in. This perpetuates the marginalization of women in history, as the argument goes, instead of promoting their integration – or the recognition that women have been critical to our history since our country’s very beginning.
Wonderful Images of women walking together all over the world today!Now time to stop marching and start running-for every political office.— Cokie Roberts (@CokieRoberts) January 21, 2017
Of course we should celebrate and honor women in history every day of every month and of every year, along with other brave and trailblazing Americans. While the argument is fair, Women’s History Month does much more good than the feared harm, and we must continue to celebrate it, now more than ever. Hopefully, someday our history curriculum and national conscience will readily integrate women of the past, present and future, including their contributions, but that is not the case today and it will continue to take time. Women’s History Month works to make that vision a reality, beyond just the month of March.
Women’s History Month brings their stories to the forefront of our national dialogue in a way that they would not be otherwise. This is similar to the way the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures has brought such positive attention, and a renewed curiosity into searching for what other female contributions history has not properly honored. The movie tells the story of three African American women – Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan – who were critical members of the teams at NASA that worked to successfully launch John Glenn into orbit, as the first American astronaut to do so. The demand and excitement for such stories is there: with Hidden Figures passing La La Land to become the highest-grossing Best Picture Oscars’ nominee.
Lea Rose Emery writes for Bustle, “Obviously there are huge benefits to looking back and celebrating the amazing women – and the plights of all women- throughout history. But we can’t let the rhetoric trick us into complacency… While Women’s History Month gives us so much good, we need to ensure that it keeps us looking forward as well as back.”
Women’s History Month’s main purpose is not only to raise awareness about historic women, but also to create an opportunity to celebrate them. When we bring more attention and celebrate these women, our entire country is better off. Everyone can learn from their lessons of leadership, fighting through adversity, strong belief in a cause and continuous bravery. Most especially for young girls and girls of color, it is incredibly important and inspiring to learn about someone who looks like them and has achieved greatness.