The Origins of Women’s History Month

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March is Women’s History Month — a time in the United States to remember and celebrate American women’s often unnoticed and unacknowledged contributions to our country. From the Library of Congress, to museums, galleries, and small bookstores, people and organizations all over will hold events to honor women, some of them being the most influential history.

The U.S. president proclaims March to be Women’s History Month every year. What is now a month-long celebration started with just a week. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the Week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. It was extended to a month in 1988. While Carter is often credited with starting the tradition, its origins go back much further.

In 1972, a boy asked his high school teacher, Molly Murphy MacGregor, who was 25 at the time, what was the women’s movement. She did not know. As a result, she got involved in women’s studies and advocated to include more women’s narratives in history books and classes.

In 1978, when she was a volunteer teacher in the school district of Sonoma, California, she helped organize an essay contest called “Real Woman.” Schools gave presentations on important women from the past, and a parade was organized in Santa Rosa.

MacGregor and her colleagues then developed curriculum guides to include women’s contributions to culture and history, and they met with women in various professions who would share their story and that of others like them. “We joked amongst ourselves: first the county, then the state, then the nation, then the world,” she told a local newspaper in 2015.

The next year, she was invited to an exclusive event at the Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College where she shared the success of her efforts and that of her school district in Sonoma. The participants were impressed and copied the curriculum guide as well as other ideas and applied them in their own states. Women started pushing for a women’s history week in March.

The popular Ms. magazine, a publication co-founded by a woman who helped shape the feminist movement, wrote about the initiative, including MacGregor’s story in Sonoma. Next thing, in February 1980, MacGregor got a call from the White House, telling her President Carter would issue a proclamation making the week of March 8 National Women’s History week. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the National Women’s History Alliance is in charge of picking a theme for Women’s History Month every year. This year’s theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.” The theme honors women who have advocated to end war, violence, and injustice and have worked toward using nonviolence as a way to make a difference in society.