Women's History Month
If you peruse high school history books, you’d see iconoclastic figures on every page, but how many of those figures are women? Research suggests not many. Though many women have positively influenced our society, few are aware of them and their significant contributions. So, March is the month we honor female history-makers, from the rockstars to the lesser known heroes. For every Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman there are countless other women who earned their place in our historical narrative, but are not recognized.
Some of you might wonder why we need a whole month to celebrate one gender. An answer can be found in an African proverb, “Until lions get their own historians, tales of the hunted will always glorify the hunter.” Women’s history is not well-documented. A big reason why is that most historical accounts found in our schools are not written by women. And
that leaves us with an incomplete, inaccurate picture of US history -- a puzzle missing some key pieces so to speak. So every March we have the privilege of discovering those missing pieces.
As recently as the 1970s, women’s history was uncharted territory in academia. In 1978, the women of the Education Task Force of Sonoma County California notice a whopping number of women absent from history texts — 3% or less of all content. They initiate “Women’s History Week.” Celebrations that are met with enthusiasm. The movement is adopted in communities across the country, and organizations like The National Women’s Historical Project successfully lobby Congress to extend Women’s History Week to the full month of March in 1987.
Capable, intelligent, innovative women have always been present throughout history, and their accomplishments are worth celebrating. This series continues the work of writing women back into history. Many of the women you will hear about will be unrecognizable, they are unknown to many. Learning about them and their achievements slowly put the missing pieces into a puzzle. Women’s history month matters because women’s history matters, and by reclaiming the past, we are able to write a better future, not just for women, but for everyone.
When you imagine pioneers in American politics, do you think of Shirley Chisholm? It's likely you don’t know that name, but from her first day in D.C, she’s a trailblazer. She captures her House seat in 1968 as the first African-American woman in Congress.
A few years later, she is the first African-American person to run for President of the United States. Her slogan? Unbought and Unbossed-- everything Shirley embodies. Although she doesn’t win, her fearless attempt paves the way for women and people of color in the following decades.
Imagine attending grad school and sending a man to the moon on the same day? That’s exactly what MIT programmer Margaret Hamilton does in 1964.
As the first female engineer for NASA, Hamilton leads a team that develops flight software for the Apollo missions. Her technology assists computers to interpret code critical for the moon landing and the future of computer programming. From space travel to the software in your laptop, Margaret Hamilton's contributions continue to impact our world today.
When I say “First Lady”, who comes to mind? If you move your thoughts from the White House to the world of physics you might come up with Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, considered the “First Lady of Physics.”
A nuclear physicist, Dr. Wu joins Princeton University as its first female professor, and later performs integral experiments for the Manhattan Project. But like many female scientists of her time, is not exempt from sexist treatment. Overcoming these and other hurdles, she spends a career pioneering new methodologies in physics and helps to widen the path for women in the world of science.
Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu
Would you have the courage to expose the illegal practices of a powerful corporation? Ida Tarbell helps to dismantle Standard Oil in 1911, but her investigative journalism isn’t just for posterity-- it’s personal.
At 15, Tarbell’s father, a small-town oil producer and refiner, is negatively impacted by the price-fixing schemes of Standard Oil. Three decades later, Tarbell’s meticulous exposé on J.D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil leads the Supreme Court to break up one of the biggest monopolies in U.S history.
If fruit gave you cancer, would you eat it? A study links pesticide use to throat cancer in 1958 and environmental journalist Rachel Carson gets to work.
Years of diligent investigation on the impact of pesticides culminate with Silent Spring -- a catalyst for the environmental movement . Her work questions our faith in technological progress and propels the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The next time you bite into an apple, thank Rachel Carson for keeping it safe.
Madam CJ Walker
With thousands of hair products a few clicks away, it’s easy to find the perfect fit for you. But in 1905, it’s a different story. Madam CJ Walker revolutionizes the beauty market after developing homemade products for black women-- a market ignored by manufacturers.
With in-person demonstrations around the country, demand skyrockets and Madam C.J. Walker Laboratories forms; she never looks back. Her tenacity, hard work and savvy business sense make Madam CJ Walker the first female, self-made millionaire in America.
Can you think of a time when you felt like an outsider? Patsy Mink arrives to Congress in 1964 as the first and only Asian-American woman out of 435 representatives. Her battles with racism and misogyny drive her to champion anti-discrimination legislation.
Her most famous contribution? Title IX which prohibits gender discrimination by federally funded institutions. Patsy may be the outsider, but her perspective generates legislation that protects women and minorities still today.