by David Clarence Scott, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Roswell Park Cancer Institute
The history of women, their struggles, rights and achievements, has long been neglected in mainstream curriculum. It wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting American women the right to vote, was ratified. During this decade, promotion of equal rights for women resonated worldwide. A women’s conference held in Europe in 1911 celebrated one of the first observances of women’s history, and thus became marked “International Women’s Day.” Having gained rapid popularity, International Women’s Day is now observed annually in more than 100 countries on March 8.
In 1978, the Education Task Force of Sonoma County Commission in California continued this advocacy by introducing Women’s History Week. Building off International Women’s Day, the group organized “Real Woman” essay entries, weeklong presentations, and culminated with a parade. Its success caught the attention of lobbyists and stakeholders nationwide. In 1980, President Carter declared National Women’s History Week beginning the week of March 8. Education departments across the country created curriculum and activities to promote equity rights and honor women’s contributions. One group, the National Women’s History Project (NWHP), continues to spearhead these efforts. NWHP strives to celebrate the diversity and significance of women’s accomplishments.
The overwhelmingly, positive responses to these initiatives led to the declaration of the whole month of March as Women’s History Month by the United States Congress in 1987. Since then, presidential proclamations have been released every year. In addition, NWHP announces annual themes to recognize and honor women, both past and present, who embody those characteristics. Past themes include: “Women Sustaining the American Spirit”, “Women Pioneering the Future”, “Women Inspiring Hope and Possibility”, “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination”, and more.
This month we recognize this year’s theme, “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment,” which pays tribute to a dozen women who have impacted their communities. Honorees include educators and advocates of Indian rights, deaf community, women’s employment, Public Health, LGBT community, international rights, human trafficking, veterans, civil rights, and other women’s rights. This month is an opportunity to show appreciation for the historical and continued contributions of women.