Women’s History Not Important According to US Social Studies Standards Study

For Immediate Release


Alexandria, Va.—The National Women’s History Museum released Where are the Women?: A Report on the Status of Women in the United States examining the status of women's history in state level social studies standards. Learning standards describe what states expect students to know and be able to do at specific stages of education. The report and analysis find that women's experiences and stories are not well integrated into U.S. state history standards. The lack of representation and context in state-level materials presupposes that women's history is even less represented at the classroom level.


“The current standards represent an opportunity for thoughtful dialog around women’s history in K-12 public education, and more in-depth explorations of how U.S. state standards present women’s history,” said Catherine Allgor, Ph.D., president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and member of the National Women’s History Museum’s board of directors. “We hope this report inspires teachers, scholars, students and parents to examine the ways in which women’s historical experiences are presented in schools. If we can’t get women into the textbooks, we can bring them into the classroom.”


Key Findings

  • Standards prioritize listing women of accomplishment, which reflects state standards overall tendency to celebrate individual leadership and achievement.
  • State standards do not collectively address the breadth and depth of women’s history. Rather, standards address a minority of topics and groups.
  • Standards over emphasize women in their domestic roles without placing women’s activities in broader economic, cultural or political contexts.
  • Standards emphasize a small number of topics or eras that are commonly associated with being women-centric such as the Progressive Era and Woman Suffrage/Voting Rights.
  • Standards do not reflect current trends or ideals in girls’ education. While there is an increasing public interest in motivating girls to embrace science, technology, engineering and mathematics, social studies standards provide few historic examples of women or their achievements in these fields.


Individual Women

State standards name 178 individual women. Of those, standards name 15 women more than 10 times. Individual women listed are usually those who achieved a level of national or regional name recognition for their activities. These 15 women and the number of times they were mentioned include:

  • Rosa Parks (34)
  • Susan B. Anthony (30)
  • Harriet Tubman (27)
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton (21)
  • Sojourner Truth (18)
  • Abigail Adams (17)
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe (15)
  • Jane Addams (15)
  • Jane Roe (15)
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett (13)
  • Eleanor Roosevelt (13)
  • Sacagawea (13)
  • Phillis Wheatley (11)
  • Mercy Otis Warren (11)
  • Anne Hutchinson (10)

Women by Race

Since the new history movement that began in the 1960s, coinciding with modern rights movements, many states include the history of marginalized groups in standards. Women as a group are often characterized as one of these marginalized groups along with ethnic minority groups and the working class. Non-elite, non-white women who appear in the standards are most often associated with the history of their marginalized groups. Of the 178 women listed in standards mentioned White women nearly two-thirds of the time (63 percent) and African-Americans a quarter (25 percent) of the time.  Hispanics and Native American/Native Alaskans received mentions respective 8 percent and 4 percent of the time.


The distribution of women by racial category reflects the emphasis on standards on protest movements. The first women’s rights movement in the 19th century arose as elite, white women challenged social, economic, political, and cultural definitions of women’s roles. Standards over represent elite, white women who had the most access to resources to advance their causes. Standards most often connect African-American women to the Abolitionist and modern Civil Rights movements. Standards less frequently include other rights movements like disability rights, Native American rights, LGBTQ, or migrant labor movements when they are in less detail. Therefore, they have fewer corresponding biographical entries.


Topics About Women

State standards divide social studies into topic areas. While women occasionally appear by name under topics, more often these standards list women as a group. In some cases, topics about women or inclusive of women—i.e., Seneca Falls Convention, family or the homefront. With the guidance of the National Women’s History Museum’s Advisory Council, the project team culled a list of terms from the data that assumes standards writers intended the standards to be inclusive of women’s roles and activities. The study found 1,975 mentions of women, women’s history, and women’s roles within all state standards. The standards overwhelmingly emphasize women—by more than half (53%)—in their domestic roles. The next highest mentions are voting rights and suffrage (20%) and the first and second waves of the women’s rights movement (9%).


Project Methodology

The Museum’s project team read the social studies standards for each state and the District of Columbia. Project staff highlighted every standard that referred to a woman or a topic associated with women. Each standard was copied into a database. Researchers—following guidance from the Museum’s advisory council of scholars, public historians and educators—reviewed the database entries to ensure that the selected standards met the project’s definitions of history about women. In the final step, researchers counted the number of times women’s names and key terms occurred within the standards. The analysis describes the way women’s history is characterized in US K-12 social studies standards. It suggests women are excluded because the standards’ historiographical framework preferences male-oriented exceptional leadership while overemphasizing women’s domestic roles.


For more information or to download the full report, please visit: https://www.womenshistory.org/social-studies-standards



About the National Women’s History Museum

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History, a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has researched, collected and exhibited the contributions of women to the social, cultural, economic and political life of our nation in the context of our collective history. The Museum uses innovative and engaging means including an interactive website, online and physical exhibits, educational programs, live presentations, social media and other outreach efforts to communicate the breadth of American women's experiences and accomplishments to reach the widest possible audience. Through these efforts and its future physical presence, the Museum serves as a guiding light to inspire people regardless of gender, class, race or culture to move into the future with respect, equal confidence, greater partnership and opportunity. For additional information visit www.WomensHistory.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.