Celebrating Women's History Month
March is the honorary observance of National Women’s History Month in the United States, as designated in 1987 by the U.S. Congress, in recognition of women’s many accomplishments throughout history. A variety of agencies, schools, and organizations observe the month by focusing on the “consistently overlooked and undervalued” role of American women in history. Libraries and communities promote special events that emphasize the achievements of women.
As we celebrate National Women’s History Month, you are encouraged to recognize the women in your life who have created your history. This blog article highlights the achievements of women and highlights just a few notable women in history. To read more or to see a full list of "30 Important Women in History You May Not Have Heard Of," please follow here.
Florence Howe (1929-2020) There are few women from second-wave feminism whose names stand out, like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. But have you heard of Florence Howe? Nicknamed "the Elizabeth Cady Stanton of women's studies," Howe began teaching the subject before it was a major or even had a name. Born in Brooklyn in 1929, Howe was introduced to feminism when she participated in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. During that time, Howe publicly refused to pay income taxes in protest of the Vietnam War and taught at a Freedom School in Mississippi as part of an effort to close the educational opportunity gap for black children.
Dolores Huerta (1930-Present) Dolores Huerta was born into a family of Mexican immigrants in 1930. Her father worked harvesting beets, and after her parents’ divorce, her mother owned a restaurant which welcomed farm and low-wage workers at affordable prices. It’s no surprise that Dolores was inspired to pursue a life as a civil rights activist. Though her activism began in high school, it was at the age of 25 that Huerta's efforts really took off. To fight for economic improvements for Latino/Mexican/Chicano migrant farm workers, Huerta co-founded the Stockton Chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO). Five years after that, she co-founded the Agricultural Workers Association to push for barrio improvements. It was two years later that she and Chavez founded the National Farmworkers Association, which would later be called the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. She sat on the board of the UFW—the only woman to do so until 2018.
Patsy Mink (1927-2002) A third-generation Japanese American, Patsy Mink was raised on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The valedictorian of her high school, Mink eventually went to study at the University of Nebraska before an illness forced her to continue her education back home. She applied to dozens of medical schools—all which rejected her. But that wouldn’t keep her from greatness. She decided to pursue law instead, and in 1948 she attended the University of Chicago Law School. Mink was not only the first Japanese American to be elected to Congress, but the first woman of color in general to win the seat. She served for a total of twelve years, having involvement in such issues as the first federal child-care bill, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and a lawsuit which led to significant changes to presidential authority under the Freedom of Information Act in 1971. She was also the co-author of the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools.
Jillian Mercado (1987-Present) Though she’s only in her 30s, Jillian Mercado has made incredible strides in the modeling and activism community. A New York native with Dominican ancestry, Mercado was diagnosed with spastic muscular dystrophy as a child. Besides visible muscle weakness throughout her body, Mercado is also in a wheelchair—a situation which has been rarely represented within society’s beauty standards. Mercado has always had a love for the fashion industry, despite its Eurocentric beauty standards and ableist stigma. She vowed to change these attitudes from the inside out. She went to college at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she earned her degree in marketing. Following this, she even interned at Allure magazine. In reference to these choices, Mercado has said she wanted to “learn the politics behind fashion so I could hire people who looked like me.”
Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) Wangari Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940. She attended Mount St. Scholastica College where she earned her degree in Biological Sciences, before moving on to get her Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and eventually obtain her Ph.D. in veterinary anatomy from the University of Nairobi. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to ever earn a doctorate degree. Her most incredible contribution to history was her establishment of the Green Belt Movement in 1977. She founded this environmental organization in response to the reports from rural Kenyan women who said that they were encountering difficulties feeding themselves and their families in light of dried up streams and other environmental changes.
Alice Coachman (1922-2014) At the 1948 London Olympics, Alice Coachman won the high jump for the United States, becoming the first black woman to win an Olympic Gold medal. King George VI awarded her medal, and subsequently, President Harry S. Truman congratulated her at a White House ceremony. Coachman was also celebrated in a motorcade that traveled from Atlanta to her hometown of Albany, Georgia. As a child, Coachman was forbidden from training at athletic fields with white people, which forced her to get creative: she would use ropes and sticks as high jumps, running barefoot. Despite these barriers, she was able to be the first black woman to win an Olympic medal and the first black person to receive an endorsement deal.
Want to take a deeper dive on Women's History Month? The links below have been provided as a resource if you are interested in learning more about other influential women and the 2023 National Women’s History Month’s theme “Celebrating Women Who Tell Their Stories."
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