The month of March marks the annually celebrated Women’s History Month — an observance of the incredible accomplishments of women throughout history. But, why March? Let’s take a look at how history got us here and what the monthlong holiday means to different people.

The roots of International Women’s Day

In the early 20th century, labor movements across North America and Europe helped spur the first celebrations of women in modern history. Then, during the first World War, members of the women’s movement in Russia organized the first unofficial International Women’s Day on March 8, 1913, the 40th anniversary of the Paris Commune, with a goal of peacefully protesting the war. It was then that the date of March 8 became significant to the women’s movement, and women across Europe held rallies in solidarity exactly one year later. 

It wasn’t until more than 50 years later in 1977 that the United Nations finally recognized the holiday. According to the UN website, it is “a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.” 

The international organization also believes International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by women — but to also recognize that no country has yet achieved gender equality. 

Women’s History Week

It was only a year after the first officially recognized International Women’s Day that Sonoma County, Calif., celebrated Women’s History Week. Institutions like Sarah Lawrence College took note and began initiating similar celebrations within their own organizations, communities and school districts. Efforts to secure a “National Women’s History Week” paid off when President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the first week of March National Women's History Week in 1980.

And finally an entire month

Those first steps toward success led to Representative Barbara Mikulski, who at the time was in the House of Representatives, and Senator Orrin Hatch co-sponsoring a Congressional Resolution for National Women’s History Week that same year. Their co-sponsorship demonstrated the wide-ranging political support for recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women. 

As a result of increasing country-wide recognition and continued growth in state schools, government and organizations, 14 states dubbed the third month of the year Women’s History month by 1986. A year later, Congress declared the holiday in perpetuity.

Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance (NWHP), now declares an annual theme. This year's is "Valiant Women of the Vote,” which “celebrates the women who have fought for woman’s right to vote in the United States.”

“In recognition of the centennial of the 19th Amendment, we will honor women from the original suffrage movement as well as 20th and 21st century women who have continued the struggle (fighting against poll taxes, literacy tests, voter roll purges and other more contemporary forms of voter suppression) to ensure voting rights for all," the NWHP added.

But...what about the other 11 months?

Some believe that Women’s History Month is no longer progressive; and that while it once served an important purpose to educate our society (and especially children) about the achievements of women that were often left out of textbooks and lectures, it now creates an unhealthy separation between what are considered "accomplishments" and "women's accomplishments."

For instance, Time contributor Nancy Goldstein makes a fastidious argument against the month-long celebration, calling it and other separations of the word “women’s” a mistake, such as having a separate women’s studies curriculum or building a National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C.

“...by allowing women to be shunted off to the side in this way — for no matter how impressive the academic department, or how large the museum, or how many previously unknown females are highlighted in the month of March, that is what we are doing — we ensure that women remain a subset of history rather than integral components of recognized major events,” says Goldstein.

What Women’s History Month means to our readers

We need 11 more months.” — Leah Jereb, copywriter and comedian

“It means communicating our worth and interests, and celebrating our past and future accomplishments.” — Erica Holguin, model and fashion coordinator

“As an educator, passing on the stories of the women that came before us to both boys and girls.” — Reka Keller, elementary school teacher

“A reminder to recover all of our history, and not just the stories the patriarchy tells us.” — Nicholas Connell, attorney

“It reminds me that there is so much of women’s history that we will never know.” — Victoria Geddes, art assistant and ceramicist

Published on Mar 11, 2020