This is an exciting time for women. There are more women in the United States Congress than ever before. In 2019, 127 women hold seats in Congress, comprising 23.7 percent of the 535 members; 25 women serve in the U.S. Senate, and 102 women serve in the House of Representatives. Women represent American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the United States House of Representatives, and greater light is being shined on women’s issues, from workplace harassment to domestic violence to pay inequality. So it is only fitting that March is National Women’s History Month.
This annual national celebration began in a Sonoma County school district in 1978 and spread to the White House in 1980, where President Jimmy Carter proclaimed that the week of March 8 was National Women’s History Week. By 1986, 14 states had declared March as Women’s History Month; in 1987 the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to establish a national celebration, which was passed into public law that year. It is also observed in Australia and the United Kingdom in March, and Canada in October.
You might wonder why such a month is needed. After all, there is no “National Men’s History Month.” It came about because women involved with the History Project noticed that no more than 3 percent of the content of textbooks was devoted to women. To combat this deficit every year they send out 100,000 catalogs and distribute thousands of women’s history posters and curriculum resources. Their popular website gets over a million visitors a year as well as mail from students, teachers, reporters and others.
Each year the National Women’s History Project designates a theme for the celebration. For 2019 it is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence,” honoring women who have pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society. Through direct action, writing, marching, legal action and civil disobedience, women have established the American tradition of using democratic means to promote the common good.
But let’s not forget to celebrate women internationally for their work on nonviolence Among those women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize are Mother Theresa; Jody Williams, who launched a campaign to end landmines; Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese activist; Emily Green Balch, a pacifist who together with Jane Addams founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, the youngest winner at age 16, working against the suppression of children and for their right to an education.
And let’s also honor some of the notable women in Fresno’s recent history. Elma Sterling was the first woman appointed to Fresno City Council; Linda Mack was the first woman elected to Fresno City Council and served two four-year terms in the 1970s. Karen Humphrey was the first woman mayor. Let’s honor peace advocates Ruth Gadebusch and Ellie Bluestein; Jackie Ryle who served as Fresno City Clerk for 28 years; and many other Fresno women who have taken on leadership roles in fields as diverse as the arts, technology, education and business. Now Fresno has a woman sheriff, a female fire chief, and a woman district attorney.
There are many ways in which each of us can participate this month. You can buy a book of stamps that commemorates notable women. Donate some money to the public library for a book on women’s history, or donate a book yourself. Why not give a biography of a famous woman in history such as Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Jane Addams to a friend.
With so many women having thrown their hats in the ring for presidential nomination in 2020, it is even possible that we may have a woman in that office. But make no mistake, there is still a good deal of prejudice against women in high business or political office. What is considered a “go-getter” in a man is frequently labeled as “aggressive” or “shrill” in a woman. And as a previous candidate said, “Women have to present themselves as more likable. People think we know about hearth and home but not about finances or the military.”
The real triumph will come when every woman’s “first” achievement no longer makes headline news.
Francine M. Farber is a retired school district administrator living in Fresno, where is she is a fulltime community volunteer. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.