Women's History Month: How It Started and How to Celebrate
By Mona Khalifeh
It's Women's History Month 2021. The month-long celebration is a chance to acknowledge women’s contributions to history, culture and society and has been observed annually in the month of March in the United States since 1987. From Abigail Adams to Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth to Rosa Parks, women have been at the forefront of history-making moments in the United States.
The National Women’s History Alliance selects and publishes a yearly theme for Women's History Month and 2021's is all about capturing the spirit of the challenging times we're living through. Because of COVID-19, many of the women's suffrage centennial celebrations originally planned for 2020 were restricted, so the National Women's Alliance is extending the annual theme for 2021 to "Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced."
How It Started
Women’s History Month started as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. Presentations were given at local schools where hundreds of students participated in a “Real Woman” essay contest. A parade was also held in downtown Santa Rosa to celebrate.
International Women's Day
International Women’s Day took place for the first time on March 8, 1911. In New York City in 1908, thousands of women united and marched for better labor laws, conditions, and the right to vote. A year later on Feb. 28, 1909, suffragists and socialists gathered again in Manhattan for what they called the first International Women's Day. The idea made its way through Europe before being introduced at the International Conference of Women in Copenhagen. One hundred women representing 17 countries agreed on the designation and the day was formally honored on March 8, 1911. The holiday wasn't largely celebrated or acknowledged in the U.S. until 1975, when the United Nations began sponsoring International Women's Day.
A few years later, the movement spread across the country. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. The March 8 date was chosen as it corresponded with International Women’s Day. March is also when Title IX was passed in 1972, which protects people from sex discrimination in federal education programs. The following year, the U.S. Congress followed suit, passing a resolution that established a national celebration. In 1987, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to expand the event to the entire month of March and was successful.
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