by Cathy Pickles, NWHM staff member
As I write this, there are signs of Spring in my garden. A few daffodils are in bloom and visitors to my bird feeder seem to have more to say (and LOUDLY) than in the last few weeks. The earth is waking up again and there is talk everywhere of new beginnings, the setting of fresh goals and general optimism. It seems appropriate, then, that March is National Women’s History Month in the United States. I confess that I knew little about the origins of this commemoration of the lives of our foremothers and their impact on all of us until recently.
The seed of a month-long celebration of the lives and accomplishments of women was planted on March 8, 1911 with the celebration of International Woman’s Day (singular) in Europe. It was reported that over one million people observed that day in Austria, Denmark , Germany and Switzerland. The focus of this first commemoration was the fight for women’s voting rights. In 1977, the United Nations designated March 8 as the “UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace” also known as “International Women’s Day.” This year’s theme is, “Empower Women – End Hunger and Poverty.”
In the United States, National Women’s History Month began in 1981. Congress petitioned President Reagan to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” He did so, saying:
American women of every race, creed and ethnic background helped found and build our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways … As leaders in public affairs, American women not only worked to secure their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity but also were principal advocates in the abolitionist, temperance, mental health reform, industrial labor and social reform movements, as well as the modern civil rights movement.
Women’s History Week was recognized for the next five years until the National Women’s History Project lobbied Congress to designate the entire month of March as “National Women’s History Month.” Since President Reagan issued such a proclamation in 1987, March has been officially labeled as such. The theme for 2012 is “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment.”
There will be events all month in nearly every American community. Check your local newspaper or civic organization events calendar. Here at the National Women’s History Museum, we having a women’s history trivia contest on Facebook, complete with prizes. We also hope you will spread the word to your family, friends and co-workers about our mission to build a permanent home to celebrate women’s history year round. Happy Women’s History month to one and all!