Celebrating Women {Women’s History Month}

Christine Ann Wenning Byrum Lambert will not be remembered in history books. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay that I won’t cure a major disease, win a Pulitzer Prize, be the first woman to accomplish something distinctive. I’m generally happy being a mom trying to raise responsible adults with a husband who loves me. I am a woman whose history is written each day as she loves, learns, laughs, and lives, but while my life won’t make the history books, I have always been fascinated by women whose names do. Even in elementary school, I devoured biographies of women like Isadora Duncan and Sacajawea and read stories about strong women, like Little Women and Trixie Belden mysteries. Even with that life-long fascination with women and our contributions to history, I did not know that we celebrated National Women’s History Month.

I had somehow reached the wise old age of 53 without ever realizing that we had a month dedicated to me – and to you, too. I feel a little like I let my sisterhood down, so in the spirit of redemption, I jumped into a Google rabbit hole of reading on Women’s History Month. When I emerged, I thought I would share what I’ve learned.

The history of celebrating our history

Women's History Month - Suffrage

Suffrage at the polls in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Women’s History Month traces its beginnings back to the first International Women’s Day in 1911, but it was not until the late 1970s that official celebrations extended to the U.S. In 1978, the Sonoma, California, school district launched a week-long event around International Women’s Day, and in 1979 Sarah Lawrence College hosted a fifteen-day conference about women. At that conference, the participants learned about the California school district’s celebration and agreed to not only initiate celebrations within their own communities and organizations but also to support an effort for a National Women’s History Week. They must have worked quickly because the next year, 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week.

“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” From President Carter’s proclamation

Just one year later, responding to the growing popularity of Women’s History Week, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a Women’s History Week. By 1986, fourteen states had declared March as Women’s History Month, and in 1987, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to designate the month of March as Women’s History Month.

Nevertheless, she persisted

As designated by the National Women’s History Project, the theme for this year’s month-long celebration is “Nevertheless, she persisted,” a phrase used by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to describe Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) when she refused to yield her time during Jeff Sessions’s confirmation debate. The phrase quickly became a rallying cry and social media hashtag to fight discrimination against women, leading the National Women’s History Project to choose the phrase as its theme for 2018 because it “embodies women working together with strength, tenacity and courage to overcome obstacles and achieve joyful accomplishments.”

As part of the celebration, they also select a group of honorees, choosing them because they “have all gotten the message to stop, either directly or indirectly, yet they have all continued to fight and succeeded in bringing positive change to the lives of diverse American women.” Most of the honorees I did not know, and I found myself lost for hours reading about their work on behalf of all of us women. You may feel differently after reading their profiles, but I am both inspired and intimidated by their tenacity and generosity, both given so selflessly. I am also astounded that acts both small and large launched each of these women to take on a cause, to fight a good fight. Their stories lead me to believe that we all have the ability to make history, that we all are making history, just by sharing our stories and supporting one another in our individual priorities.

Now that I am “woke” to this month-long celebration, I’m going to encourage all of us to set aside some time this month to pay attention and to learn more about what women are doing in and for our nation. That Google rabbit hole of research on National Women’s History Month opened my eyes to a whole world of women doing amazing things, and here are some ways I plan to explore our shared history this month. Join me!

 

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