March is a very busy month with many observances planned for worthy causes or to honor special people.
Many of those special people will be recognized during Women’s History Month in March.
In this column, we pay tribute to many of the women who have pioneered many causes in our nation.
Also, in March, we see these other observances: St. Patrick’s Day, March 17; National Nutrition Month; March is Kidney Month; March is Red Cross Month; March is Music in Our Schools Month and during March, we Read Across America.
Go to a special Library of Congress website on Women’s History Month at http://womenshistorymonth.gov/
The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society.
Let’s read from the Library of Congress site:
“Before the 1970s, the topic of women’s history was largely missing from general public consciousness.
“To address this situation, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a ‘Women’s History Week’ celebration in 1978 and chose the week of March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day.
“The celebration was met with positive response, and schools began to host their own Women’s History Week programs.
“The next year, leaders from the California group shared their project at a Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College.
“Other participants not only became determined to begin their own local Women’s History Week projects but also agreed to support an effort to have Congress declare a national Women’s History Week.
“In 1981, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) cosponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a ‘Women’s History Week.’
“In 1987, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to expand the celebration to the entire month of March.
“Since then, the National Women’s History Month Resolution has been approved every year with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.”
This year’s Women’s History Month theme is Our History is Our Strength.
The National Women’s History Project says, “Our shared history unites families, communities, and nations.
“Although women’s history is intertwined with the history shared with men, several factors – social, religious, economic, and biological – have worked to create a unique sphere of women’s history.”
Continue reading from the National Women’s History Project:
“Although women now outnumber men in American colleges nationwide, the reversal of the gender gap is a very recent phenomenon.
“The fight to learn was a valiant struggle waged by many tenacious women — across years and across cultures — in our country.
“After the American Revolution, the notion of education as a safeguard for democracy created opportunities for girls to gain a basic education — based largely on the premise that, as mothers, they would nurture not only the bodies but also the minds of (male) citizens and leaders.
“The concept that educating women meant educating mothers endured in America for many years, at all levels of education.
“Pioneers of secondary education for young women faced arguments from physicians and other ‘experts’ who claimed either that females were incapable of intellectual development equal to men, or that they would be harmed by striving for it.
“Women’s supposed intellectual and moral weakness was also used to argue against coeducation, which would surely be an assault on purity and femininity.
“Emma Willard, in her 1819 Plan for Improving Female Education, noted with derision the focus of women’s ‘education’ on fostering the display of youth and beauty, and asserted that women are ‘the companions, not the satellites of men’ — ‘primary existences’ whose education must prepare them to be full partners in life’s journey.
“While Harvard, the first college chartered in America, was founded in 1636, it would be almost two centuries before the founding of the first college to admit women — Oberlin, which was chartered in 1833.
“And even as ‘coeducation’ grew, women’s courses of study were often different from men’s, and women’s role models were few, as most faculty members were male.
“Harvard itself opened its ‘Annex’ (Radcliffe) for women in 1879 rather than admit women to the men’s college — and single-sex education remained the elite norm in the U.S. until the early 1970s.
“As coeducation took hold in the Ivy League, the number of women’s colleges decreased steadily; those that remain still answer the need of young women to find their voices, and today’s women’s colleges enroll a far more diverse cross-section of the country than did the original Seven Sisters.
“The equal opportunity to learn, taken for granted by most young women today, owes much to Title IX of the Education Codes of the Higher Education Act Amendments.
“This legislation, passed in 1972 and enacted in 1977, prohibited gender discrimination by federally funded institutions.
“It has become the primary tool for women’s fuller participation in all aspects of education from scholarships, to facilities, to classes formerly closed to women.
“Indeed, it transformed the educational landscape of the United States within the span of a generation.”
To learn more about the 2012 Women’s History Month honorees selected by the National Women’s History Project, go to http://www.nwhp.org/whm/honorees2012.php
Recognizing the Pioneering Leadership of Women and Their Impact on the Diverse Areas of Education.
• Emma Hart Willard (1787–1870) – Women Higher Education Pioneer
• Charlotte Forten Grimke (1837 –1914) – Freedman Bureau Educator
• Annie Sullivan (1866 – 1936) – Disability Education Architect
• Gracia Molina de Pick (b.1929) – Feminist Educational Reformer
• Okolo Rashid (b.1949) – Community Development Activist and Historical Preservation Advocate
• Brenda Flyswithhawks (b. 1950) – American Indian Advocate and Educator
Find out more about Women’s History Month by going to Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_History_Month
Editor’s note: Howard Lestrud is ECM online managing editor.