The Origins of Women’s History Month by Dr. Frank Bisher

March 9, 2020

An essay by longtime EMCC instructor of English and History, Dr. Frank Bisher.

It’s easy to say that the origins of Women’s History Month are very factual, such as it was designated by Presidential Proclamation after Congress in 1987 declared March “Women’s History Month,” or that President Jimmy Carter designated the first official National Women’s History Week beginning March 8th. The truth of the matter goes back to a matter of the heart and courage, “women’s heart and courage.”

Since the early to mid-nineteenth century, women began to contribute in earnest to culture and civilization and fight for civil rights and major figures rose to the forefront, such as Harriet Tubman, leader of the underground railroad, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the early organizer, and leader of the women’s suffrage movement in America.

Two such women of courage organized events that happened in March. These women were Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, young Americans schooled in the militant tactics of the British women’s suffragist movement. They had formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association Congressional Committee in 1912, which shifted away from state voting rights to national voting rights. In March 1913, Paul and Burns led their group of suffragists, along with some men, in a parade through Washington D.C. From 1913 to 1917 many suffragists were arrested, put in prison, denied food at times, and were denied political prisoner status. In March 1917, the National American Suffrage Association Congressional Committee joined up with another women’s suffrage group called the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage to form the National Women’s Party, a historic event. They campaigned vigorously for the women’s vote and the 19th Amendment, which was finally passed in 1920. President Woodrow Wilson saw the women’s determination and got behind the Women’s Party (a little reluctantly) in 1918.

Those two events are a major reason why we celebrate Women’s History Month in March. Additionally, Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education and story, was passed by the Senate on March 1, 1972, but was not fully ratified and effective until June 23, 1972. The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the Senate on March 22, 1972, but if still not passed or ratified by a number of states.

All of us should celebrate Women’s History Month. Men should be eager to learn more about women’s achievements throughout history and should support them. I, personally, am looking forward to the day when we have total equality and there is a woman in the White House.

Until then, celebrate these women of the past and support the women of the future.