Every March, people in the United States celebrate the achievements and history of women as part of Women’s History Month.
George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many women started to campaign for women’s rights, particularly the right to vote. This became known as the suffragist movement.
HOW IT STARTED
Educators in Santa Rosa, California, first celebrated Women’s History Week in March 1978 to increase awareness of women’s contributions to society. Organizers selected a week in early March to correspond with International Women’s Day on March 8. Over the next several years, other cities across the country joined Santa Rosa in celebrating Women’s History Week.
In 1980, U.S. president Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 National Women’s History Week, urging everyone in the United States to participate. According to Carter, “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.”
The week-long event officially became a month-long one in 1987 when Congress passed a resolution designating March as Women’s History Month. Women’s History Month has been celebrated in the United States every March since.
WHO IT HONORS
Among the notable figures often spotlighted during Women’s History Month are Sacagawea, a Native American woman who helped make Lewis and Clark’s expedition to map parts of the West in the early 19th century a success; Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who fought for equality for women in the mid-19th century, more than 70 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in the United States in 1920; Harriet Tubman, a spy who led slaves to freedom during the Civil War; Amelia Earhart, one of the world’s first female pilots (she mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937); Madeleine Albright, who became the first female Secretary of State in 1996; and Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be named a principal dancer—the highest level—in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre in 2015.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (right) was one of the leading figures of the early women's rights movement.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH TODAY
Each year the National Women’s History Alliance chooses a theme for Women’s History Month. Previous themes have included “Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet” (2009) and “Celebrating Women in STEM” (2013). The 2019 theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence.”
Beyond the theme of the year, Women’s History Month continues the discussion of women and their contributions through activities such as museum exhibits and film screenings, and by encouraging the study of achievements by women year-round.
AP, REX, Shutterstock
Activists march for equal rights in Washington, D.C., on July 9, 1978. That year marked the 58th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the United States in 1920.
Photo credits (top to bottom): George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division; AP, REX, Shutterstock.
Text by Alli Dickey