One student’s question sparked Women’s History Month


Cohen Perry, Staff Writer

Women’s History Month originated with one student posing a simple question that couldn’t be simply answered. On the day a perplexed high school student asked history teacher Molly MacGregor, “What is the women’s movement?”, she was taken aback by the realization that she didn’t know what to say. How do you encapsulate hundreds of years of women struggling, persevering and triumphing into a few minutes…or even an hour, or a week for that matter? At this landmark moment, MacGregor was not only struck by this impossibility, but also by the omission of women’s history from the school books and coursework she’d been taught and had been teaching for years.

This was a blind spot in human history that MacGregor became determined to bring into focus.

This grand effort began in the smallest, most humble way. MacGregor proceeded to put together a series of events that would spread women’s history around her school and community which involved student writing contests, presentations by local women leaders, and a parade in her hometown of Santa Rosa.

By 1978, MacGregor helped introduce Women’s History Week nationally. Over time, the events that she initially envisioned started to gain traction. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared that March 8th would officially be Women’s History Week. After that, schools around the country began incorporating Women’s History week into their curriculum. The week continued to grow until it became a month-long observance for many school districts. By 1986 there were fourteen states publically declaring March as Women’s History Month. One year later on March 12, 1987, legislation passed and March officially became Women’s History Month.

Over the years, the month has changed from a school event into a national event that honors women from all over. The National Women’s History Museum has a set theme each year and a list of women to honor. This year’s theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence.” The goal is to honor the women who have led efforts to end war and injustice, and helped pioneer new nonviolent ways to deal with conflicts. This year the women being honored are  Graciela Sanchez, co-founder of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, Deborah Tucker, president of the board of directors of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Dr. E. Faye Williams, human rights activist and president/CEO of the National Congress of Black Women, Sarah Brady, the late gun control activist and champion of the Brady Bill and, Peace Pilgrim, who logged thousands of miles in her cross-country marches for peace before her death in 1981.

Women’s History Month has grown to become a national celebration for women all over the United States, encouraging them to recognize the achievements of past generations and hopeful for what future generations will bring. In the future, Women’s History Month might not even exist because women’s history will be fully recognized. Women are still somewhat marginalized in the history, literature, science and art textbooks used today. Yet, acknowledging women’s historical role may be the most important goal for educators in all subjects. Young women who see themselves as under-represented in so many influential professional fields may reach the conclusion that they are inferior. Understanding that women have been legally censored and restricted in terms of their education, expression and rights for generations may help teens recognize that they aren’t limited by their gender, but rather society’s perception. The United States is one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world so if we change the way women are talked about and represented in education and the workplace, it could foreseeably bring a change on a global scale.

Every year the question “Why do women get a whole month?” comes up. The answer is that the representation of women throughout history is little to none. After the years of women not being allowed to make history, it is important that there is a month for us to look back on the achievements of women from all backgrounds. From women such as Claudette Colvin, a teenage activist who refused to give up her seat on the bus, or Hedy Lamarr, who helped develop a new method of “frequency hopping,” a technique for disguising radio transmissions by making the signal jump between different channels in a prearranged pattern. Women’s History Month also breaks down the myth about what women can and can’t do. For years, certain fields like math and science have been seen as something that only men can do. Women like Margaret Hamilton who wrote the code to send Apollo to space, or Chien-Shiung Wu, who disproved a 30-year-old “law of nature”  have been left out of textbooks and common cultural knowledge.

Women’s History Month holds an important place in our society because it is used to uplift a group that is often pushed to the side. While some may still be asking “But, a month? Why a whole month,” the answer is so absolutely obvious. Because, as MacGregor realized, the entirety of women’s history can’t be summed up in a matter of minutes and until women are fully integrated into all fields of study every day, our country needs to make a point of remembering what women have endured and what they have contributed, despite all odds.