In 1987, Congress declared March National Women’s History Month. Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. As a parent, what are some reasons or ways for you to celebrate such holidays?
The story behind Women’s History Month
In 1980, a group of women from Santa Rosa, California started the National Women’s History Project (NWHP). According to the NWHP’s website, the grassroots campaign formed as a response to the fact that only 3 percent of classroom materials at the time addressed women’s role in history.
“Today our aim is as clear and simple as it was 25 years ago: to teach as many people as possible about women’s role in history,” their website reads.
The organization addresses this goal by working with “schools, colleges, companies, churches, clubs, communities, government offices, unions, publishers, and the media” to disburse materials about women’s history.
Such materials are disbursed through numerous means. The organization sends out “100,000 catalogs and tens of thousands of women’s history posters, celebratory materials, books, videos, and curriculum resources.” Their website has more than 1 million visitors a year, and they respond to 200,000 requests for information each year.
The staff created more than 200 multicultural women’s history resource materials, and trained more than 300,000 teachers. Their women’s history training sessions and women’s historic site tours have been conducted in 42 states.
Why Women’s History Month is Important
Rebecca Hollingsworth, director of youth education and outreach with the NWHP, said that women’s history education is crucial for promoting strong women role models not just for girls, but for boys as well.
“When we’re (women) locked into the June Cleaver role, they’re (men) locked into the Ward Cleaver role, and it isn’t always that way,” Hollingsworth says.
Hollingsworth views self-determination, the ability to create one’s future, as being an important part of American history that’s reflected in women’s history. By learning about this, children can “see their futures as open and expanding, based on their interests and innate talents, not limited and contracting, based on their biology.”
“History must tell the whole story,” the NWHP’s website reads. “For girls, knowing women’s achievements expands their sense of what is possible. For all of us, knowledge of women’s strengths and contributions builds respect and nourishes self esteem — crucial to all children and adults now, and in the years to come. “
How to celebrate Women’s History Month
Hollingsworth said the best place for families to examine the role of women in American history is within their families.
“Did Grandma get a BA in the 1930s when colleges were less open to women students?,” Hollingsworth says. “Perhaps someone in your family was one of the over 1,000 women recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their role as Woman Air Force Service Pilots during World War II.”
Families can also introduce their children to the “hidden Heras” of history. Hollingsworth says examples of such women include Chein Shung Wu, a “physicist whose works and male partners won Nobel recognition while she was overlooked,” or Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female MD to practice medicine in the U.S.
The NWHP’s website has a resource center with more information and materials for parents to share with their children, including a “Parent’s Corner” section.
The Milwaukee Public Library also has resources for celebrating Women’s History Month, including a daily fact about women’s history.
March Highlights in U.S. Women's History
Source: Rebecca Hollingsworth, National Women's History Project