Although women’s history is recognized for the entire month of March, it started out as only a day. The first National Woman’s Day occurred in the U.S. on Feb. 28, 1909, when women protested working conditions in New York. In 1910, the Socialist International proposed and established a women’s day that would be international and would be celebrated annually starting in 1911.
In 1982, this day was expanded to a week by the U.S. government. Women’s History Week was recognized on the week of March 8, when International Women’s Day is celebrated. Finally, in 1987, March was declared Women’s History Month by presidential proclamation and eventually became an annual occurrence.
Women’s History Month is recognized by many universities including UWG. Dr. Stephanie Chalifoux, Assistant Professor and women’s historian at UWG, is passionate about the celebration of women’s history year-round and explains why Women’s History Month is extremely significant.
“There’s a lot of nameless women in history, women that we just don’t know that did a lot of the groundwork to make things better for women, so I think recognizing it, even if it is just this one month out of the year, is important for us to do,” says Chalifoux. “And, it gives an opportunity to reflect on how things have not always been this way. You know, how did women have to fight to get access to rights and certain privileges that other folks in the community have already had?”
This reflection on women’s history shows that change for the better is possible, and this notion has the ability to spark a passion or a movement. In fact, it already has.
“One of the most important things going on right now, I think in this country, is this Me Too movement, #MeToo, and that has a long past. It actually was created in 2006 by Tarana Burke, but even before that women in this country were working on behalf of seeking justice for women who experience sexual assault,” said Chalifoux. “For instance, Rosa Parks … we know she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white rider, but Rosa Parks her very early sort of social justice efforts were on behalf of women who had been raped in the 40s. She was a big part of this movement seeking justice.”
When looking at women’s history in the U.S., it is easy to trace patterns from the past into contemporary society. The current culture is heavily affected by all of history and women’s history is a tremendous part of that. Without women’s history our current society would be incredibly different and women would not have the rights they do today.
“We have to think about women as being this incredibly important role in all of history,” said Chalifoux. “They help shape society, the culture, politics, and economics, so I think it’s important to know because if you only know a limited amount about history, and that doesn’t incorporate what women have done, then you have an incomplete history, and so I think you only have a little bit of the story, and you really want the full story.”
Without the full story, women would not have the right to vote, own property or get a credit card in their own name. Political, economic, and social power for women would be nonexistent. Essentially, all the power that women have in contemporary society would be stripped away. This is why women’s history is something that is powerful and life changing for not only women but for all people groups all over the world, including men.
“Men typically have at least one woman relative somewhere in their life,” says Chalifoux. “They know they have women friends. Personally, I think they have an investment in knowing about the lives of women.”
Whether it be a girlfriend, best friend, wife, sister or daughter most men have a woman in their life that is special to them. Women’s history gives these special women rights and equality that should not be taken for granted by women, men or anyone. It should be celebrated, and that is what Women’s History Month is all about.
It is about acknowledging the hard work of historical figures. It is a party for women’s rights and equality. It is a reflection for what everyone has to be thankful for and it is a chance for hope and optimism. Women’s history gives people hope that they live in a world where good change is possible, that they live in a world where both men and women have a voice, and that change can happen with a little perseverance and passion.
This is why Women’s History Month is truly a celebration.