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The Women’s History Alliance

The National Women’s History Project is proud to announce the establishment of a new Women’s History Alliance, which will help link women’s history advocates at the local, state, and federal level and significantly expand each group’s circle of influence. 

Open to individuals and organizations, this new effort will help connect educators, performers, keepers of historic sites, agencies, and organizations in their work recognizing women’s history and preparing for the Woman Suffrage Centennial in 2020. 

Building on the success of Women’s History Month, the primary goal of the new Alliance is to have Women’s Equality Day—August 26th, the anniversary of American women winning the right to vote—declared a federal holiday. This will be a serious challenge, but what better way to celebrate “Women’s Independence Day” and honor the inspiring non-violent movement that overcame tremendous odds to win civil rights to American women.

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2015 Theme and 2015 National Women’s History Month Honorees

Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives

March is National Women’s History Month.  Every year the National Women’s History Project selects a unifying theme to be shared with all who want to promote women’s history.  Please feel free to use this theme and any other materials on our website for your programs or events.

This year’s theme presents the opportunity to weave women’s stories – individually and collectively – into the essential fabric of our nation’s history.

Accounts of the lives of individual women are critically important because they reveal exceptionally strong role models who share a more expansive vision of what a woman can do. The stories of women’s lives, and the choices they made, encourage girls and young women to think larger and bolder, and give boys and men a fuller understanding of the female experience. Knowing women’s achievements challenges stereotypes and upends social assumptions about who women are and what women can accomplish today.

There is a real power in hearing women’s stories, both personally and in a larger context. Remembering and recounting tales of our ancestors’ talents, sacrifices, and commitments inspires today’s generations and opens the way to the future.

2015 is also the 35th anniversary of the Women’s History Movement and the National Women’s History Project. We are proud that, after decades of dedicated research and technological advances, the stories of American women from all cultures and classes are accessible and visible as never before. Numerous scholars and activists helped shape the Women’s History Movement, and also provided the research and energy which created and sustains the National Women’s History Project. During 2015, we recognize and celebrate the many ways that women’s history has become woven into the fabric of our national story.


2015 National Women’s History Month Honorees

 March is National Women’s History Month.  2015 is the National Women’s History Project’s  35th Anniversary.  In celebration of this landmark anniversary, we have chosen 9 women as 2015 Honorees who have contributed in very special ways to our work of “writing women back into history.”  

Together, these 2015 Honorees have written, co-authored, or edited more than 60 books. Holly Near has produced 30 CDs.  Collectively, their creations reveal the depth and breadth of the multicultural female experience. They have woven women’s stories into the fabric of our history.

Please feel free to use these brief biographies and any other materials on our website for your programs or events.


Delilah L. Beasley (1867-1934)
Historian and Newspaper Columnist


At her memorial service, which was a testament
to her life-long crusade for justice,
all attending stood and made the following pledge—
Every life casts it shadow , my life plus others make power to move the world. 
I, therefore pledge my life to the living work of brotherhood
and material understanding between the races. 

Delilah L. Beasley was the first African American woman to be regularly published in a major metropolitan newspaper and the first author to present the history of African Americans in early California.

 Growing up in Ohio, Beasley started writing social columns for black and white newspapers while still a teenager. After her parents’ deaths, she sought a career path that would better support her younger siblings, working as a hairdresser, massage therapist, nurse, and maid for many years. In 1910 she moved to Oakland California where she immersed herself in the local black community and again started writing articles in local newspapers.

 In 1915 Beasley started writing a weekly column in the Oakland Tribune. Her articles protested the stereotypes contained in the movie The Birth of a Nation. Through a column called “Activities among Negroes,” she campaigned for African-American dignity and rights.  Highlighting activities of local churches, women’s clubs, literary societies, along with national politics, and achievements of black men and women, her column aimed to give all readers a positive picture of the black community and demonstrate the capabilities of African Americans.

Deeply interested in the history of black Californians, Beasley trained herself in archival research and oral histories. In 1919 she self-published The Negro Trail-Blazers of California, a groundbreaking book chronicling the lives of hundreds of black Californians from the pioneer period through the early 20th century. Her book included an unprecedented amount of Black women’s history, focusing on the strong roles women played in their communities and featuring countless biographies of women leaders.

 In the thirties, Beasley was the driving force behind the passage California’s first anti-lynching bill.  She continued her column and was active in the community until her death in 1934.


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Gladys Tantaquidgeon (1899-2005)
Mohegan Medicine Woman, Anthropologist, and Tribal Elder

gladysbwifn the CT Hall of Fame (5)

 In my early years, I wasn’t aware that time was going so rapidly …
later I realized many of our old people were dying and their knowledge
went with them. Something had to be done to preserve a record of
their way of life. My goal has always been that this information …
be passed on to future generations.  Gladys Tantaquidgeon

 Gladys Tantaquidgeon’s life spanned the entire 20th century.  She grew up in the Mohegan community (Uncasville, Connecticut) learning traditional practices, beliefs, and herbalism. She only completed grade school but at age 20 she took the opportunity to study anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed extensive field research on east coast Indian tribeal cultures and herbal medicines and published several books based on her research. In 1931, she co-founded Tantaquidgeon Museum with her brother and father; it remains the oldest American Indian owned museum in the U.S. 

In 1934, Tantaquidgeon started work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and for the next 10 years she provided social services and worked as a native arts specialist in Native American communities in the north central U.S. She became an expert in preserving and reviving traditional practices that had been forbidden or lost in the 19th century. During the 1940s she also worked as a librarian in a Connecticut women’s prison, where she used skills gained from her previous work helping struggling Native women.

In 1947, Tantaquidgeon began working as the full time curator for her family’s museum. For the next 50 years she introduced visitors to her tribe’s history and traditions through a collection of artifacts and crafts. The museum was created under the assumption that “you can’t hate someone you know a lot about.” In her later years, she served on the Mohegan Tribal Council and continued her work as a medicine woman. Throughout her life Tantaquidgeon collected tribal records and documents that in 1994 proved to be critical to the success of the Mohegan Tribe’s decades-long campaign to gain federal recognition.

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 Eleanor Flexner

Eleanor Flexner (1908 –1995)
Historian and Independent Scholar

In the end all women and all men can only benefit from the more truthful
and balanced image of women which will emerge from history where they
 are shown to have been actively involved in shaping their own destiny and
 that of the country.  Eleanor Flexner 1975 Preface to Century of Struggle

Eleanor Flexner’s groundbreaking 1959 book Century of Struggle: The Women’s Right Movement in the United States marked her as a pioneer in the field of women’s studies.

In this landmark publication Flexner relates women’s physically courageous and politically ingenious work for the vote to other 19th- and early 20th-century social, labor, and reform movements.  Most importantly, she includes the importance of the campaigns for  equal education, the abolition of slavery, and the advocacy of temperance laws.  

In the 1940s, Flexner began researching the 19th-century labor struggles of American women but found that few historians had touched the subject. She was already planning to write a history of the American woman suffrage movement and was convinced that any treatment must deal with the experiences of working class women and politically active women of color. Her book was so comprehensive on these unexplored subjects that Harvard University Press accepted it for publication despite her lack of academic credentials.

In the seventies Flexner expanded Century of Struggle to address  the growing audience interested in women’s history and wrote her last book, a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft. She was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Swarthmore College in 1974. An expanded edition of Century of Struggle was published in 1975 and the paperback expanded yet again in 1999 and in 2007. Her analysis will long be recognized as a source of inspiration for “second wave” feminists who went on to the groundwork for subsequent generations of women’s history scholars.

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Polly Welts Kaufman (1929-Present)
Writer, Teacher, Activist

Polly promoting women's history (4)

By connecting with the lives of your figurative sisters, mothers, grandmothers
and great grandmothers in all the diversity of the backgrounds they
represent, you gain strength from the challenges and successes of the women
who came before you.  If she could do that — if she could overcome that —
if she could create that — so can I! 
Polly Welts Kaufman

 Polly Welts Kaufman is a writer, teacher and above all an activist for equality.  Her path to writing women’s lives began with the sound of a door closing, heavy as it was with gendered prejudice. Graduating from Brown University in 1951 with a degree in American Studies, she planned to teach high school in Providence, Rhode Island, only to be asked, “Are you married or going to be married?” Answering “Yes,” she was told to look elsewhere for employment.  

 Filled with reformist zeal, Kaufman nevertheless became a high school teacher in the Pacific Northwest.  When she moved to Boston, she became an activist in the civil rights movement during the embattled period of school desegregation. She ran a program to ensure that the 100+ public schools would, for the first time, have books by African American authors as well as books on African American culture and history. 

 Earning a Ph.D. at Boston University, she taught women’s history for over twenty years,  first at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and then at the University of Southern Maine.  

Kaufman is the author of a long list of books and articles on women’s history including National Parks and the Woman’s Voice: A History; Boston Women and City School Politics, 1872-1905; and Women Teachers on the Frontier.

 As a project director and principal researcher, she has been involved in establishing many women’s history trails including The Boston Women’s Heritage Trail in Massachusetts and The Portland Women’s History Trail in Maine. Kaufman also received two Fulbright Scholarships to Norway, she helped establish The Walking Trail of Statues to Women in Oslo.  Her work celebrates the telling of women’s lives as a global conversation.

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Lynn Sherr (1943- Present) 
Broadcast Journalist and Author

lynn signing Sally book (4)

The modern women’s rights movement has brought about the greatest
social change in our lifetime.  It woke me up, gave me purpose focused my
energy…I joined a growing number of twentieth-century feminist determined
 to set the record straight and prove definitively that the same bold women
who had blazed the trails deserved our unmitigated thanks. 
Lynn Sherr

Lynn Sherr, an American  broadcast journalist and author, began her career at Conde Nast, when she won the Mademoiselle Magazine Guest Editor Competition in college.  She soon moved on to the Associated Press, then WCBS-TV,  PBS, and ultimately ABC, where she covered politics, space and social change for more than 30 years.  As a correspondent for the ABC news magazine 20/20, she received many honors, including the George Foster Peabody Award in 1994 for “The Hunger Inside,” about anorexia. 

For over a decade,  Sherr along with Jurate  Kazickas created The Women’s Appointment Calendar, a day-by-day recollection of women’s historic events. The calendars are fun-filled, primary source documents of women’s history before and during the second wave of the 20th century women’s movement.

Sherr is an unabashed feminist who has twice been the recipient of the Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award, honoring journalists for “exceptional coverage of reproductive rights and health care issues.”  She has rejected calls for a “new feminism,” remarking, “What’s wrong with the old feminism?”

In Susan B. Anthony Slept Here (1976), Sherr recognized the importance of reclaiming and visiting women’s historic landmarks.  Her latest best-selling book, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space (2014), is the only adult biography of that pathbreaking woman.  Sherr’s career on and off TV is courageously chronicled in Outside the Box: A Memoir (2006).

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Judy Yung   (1946-Present)
Oral Historian, Author, and Professor

2006 photo Judy Yung (2)

The personal is political for me… Inspired by the Asian American
and women’s liberation movements in the 1970s, I began researching,
interviewing, and writing about Chinese American women
in an effort to reclaim my history as a Chinese American woman,
refute mainstream stereotypes of the China Doll and Dragon Lady,
and set the historical record straight. And I haven’t stopped since.   
Judy Yung

Judy Yung is best known for her groundbreaking work in documenting the immigration history of Angel Island and the life stories of Chinese American women.   As a second-generation Chinese American born and raised in San Francisco Chinatown, Yung embarked on a lifelong mission to reclaim the history of Chinese Americans and to educate Americans about the lives, struggles, and contributions to this country.  

Her first book, Island (1980), involved translating Chinese poems that were found on the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station and conducting oral history interviews with former Chinese detainees.

In 1981, with a grant from the federal Women’s Educational Act Program, Yung researched and designed a pictorial exhibit on the history of Chinese American women that traveled throughout the country.  In 1986, she wrote the first book on the same subject—Chinese Women of America: A Pictorial History.

Eager to delve deeper into Chinese American women’s history, Yung wrote Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (1995), and Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (1999).  Based on primary sources (Chinese newspapers, immigration records, oral history interviews, and personal memoirs and writings), the books show how race, class, and gender discrimination shaped the lives of two generations of Chinese American women during a time of great social ferment in China as well as in the United States.

As a professor of American Studies at UC Santa Cruz, Yung taught courses in ethnic studies, Asian American studies, and women’s history, and helped develop an Asian American Studies Program.

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Darlene Clark Hine (1947- )
Historian and Educator

Darlene with book (2)

 Receiving the 2013 National Humanities Medal… was both a blessing
and a profound moment in the history of Black Women’s History
because it represented acknowledgement and appreciation
of the work that I and my generation of scholars did to include
the contributions that black women have made to our nation’s
progress and to the global struggle against social injustice,
and economic and gender inequality
.  Darlene Clark Hine

As an historian Darlene Clark Hine sought not only to explore African American history, but to expand the discipline of history itself by focusing on black women “who remained at the very bottom of the ladder in the United States.” A leading expert on the subject of race, class, and gender in American society, Hine is credited with helping to establish a doctoral field in Comparative Black History at Michigan State University. 

While attending Chicago’s Roosevelt University in the sixties, Hine says it was “hearing black activists refer so often to history, seeing the black culture celebrated by artists, and reading new works by black writers  “that inspired her with the hope that someday she could change the very definition of “history.”

“Historians can write a history of anything or anyone,” Hine is quoted as saying, “but apparently few considered black women worth the telling.” Hine herself had to be persuaded to explore the lives of African American women in Indiana, but soon became convinced that US history was leaving out far too much that was important to nurture a comprehensive understanding of American society. Thus her preliminary research on women’s roles in churches, and other settings led to brief monograph, When the Truth Is Told: Black Women’s Community and Culture in Indiana, 1875-1950 (1980).

“If I can…impress upon the historical profession” she once insisted, “how important it is to talk to and illuminate the lives of people who did not leave written records, but who also influenced generations of women all over the globe, then I will feel that my career is worthwhile.”

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 Holly Near (1949-Present) 
Singer, Songwriter, Social Activist 


I am open and I am willing
For to be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change.   Holly Near

Holly Near has inspired generations with music that chronicles progressive activism of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. During the war against Indochina Holly began to write songs based on historic and current events that were challenging progressives in the United States. She wrote about the killings at Kent and Jackson State, the struggles of The United Farm Workers and the frightening consequences of nuclear war.  Her work with women in the military as well as women in countries occupied by the US military led Near to rethink the role of women in the world and the policy that challenges women in a very particular way. Near began to write songs specifically about women’s lives both in a global and personal context. 

One of the many founders of what became known as “women’s music,” Near was one of the first women to create an independent record company. In 1973 Redwood Records was formed and for nearly 20 years produced and promoted music rooted in the ideas of peace and feminism. An extraordinary coalition builder in what she calls the “heady days” of 70s activism, Near helped link the work of activists in the field of ecology, international feminism, global peace initiatives and LGBTQ awareness. Near has generously shared her talent to raise millions of dollars for progressive organizations. Her songs “Singing For Our Lives”, “It Could Have Been Me”,
“I Ain’t Afraid”, The Great Peace March and “I Am Willing” have become anthems for activist communities throughout the world.

Near’s unusual contribution historically placed in the post sixties era of feminist activism crystallized her iconic status.  Her genuine performance style, powerful voice and inspirational lyrics identify her as a unique contributor to women’s history as well as a remarkable vocalist and entertainer.

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Vicki L. Ruiz (1955 – )
Educator and Pioneer in Latina History


For me, history remains a grand adventure,
one which began at the kitchen table listening
to the stories of my mother and grandmother and
then took flight aboard the local bookmobile.  
Vicki Ruiz

The first in her family to receive any advanced degree, Vicki L. Ruiz earned a Ph.D in History at Stanford in June 1982. Two months later she showed up for her first teaching position with a baby on her hip and another on the way.  Over the course of three decades, Ruiz has been a major force in shaping the field of Chicana history.

 In 2012, when she became the first Latina historian inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Her commendation recognized her pioneering scholarship and leadership “skillfully blending insights from the history of women, of workers, and from the arena of ethnic studies.” Ruiz has inspired generations of students and scholars to integrate this large and complex ethnic group into the broad tapestry of American history.

 Over the course of three decades, Dr. Ruiz has published over fifty essays and one dozen books including Cannery Women, Cannery Lives and From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth- Century America. Her edited or co-edited collections include Unequal Sisters: An Inclusive Reader in U.S. Women’s History and the three-volume, Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia.  Dedicated to the people whose lives she writes back into history, Ruiz, explains: “As a historian, I have had the privilege of interviewing people whose quiet courage made a difference in their lives and in their communities.”

 A committed educator, Dr. Ruiz contributed to numerous public history projects, including documentaries, museum exhibits, oral history programs, high school workshops, and teacher seminars. She is currently President-elect of the American Historical Association.

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History of the Women’s Rights Movement

Living the Legacy: The Women’s Rights Movement (1848-1998)

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” That was Margaret Mead’s conclusion after a lifetime of observing very diverse cultures around the world. Her insight has been borne out time and again throughout the development of this country of ours. Being allowed to live life in an atmosphere of religious freedom, having a voice in the government you support with your taxes, living free of lifelong enslavement by another person. These beliefs about how life should and must be lived were once considered outlandish by many. But these beliefs were fervently held by visionaries whose steadfast work brought about changed minds and attitudes. Now these beliefs are commonly shared across U.S. society.

Another initially outlandish idea that has come to pass: United States citizenship for women. 1998 marked the 150th Anniversary of a movement by women to achieve full civil rights in this country. Over the past seven generations, dramatic social and legal changes have been accomplished that are now so accepted that they go unnoticed by people whose lives they have utterly changed. Many people who have lived through the recent decades of this process have come to accept blithely what has transpired. And younger people, for the most part, can hardly believe life was ever otherwise. They take the changes completely in stride, as how life has always been.

The staggering changes for women that have come about over those seven generations in family life, in religion, in government, in employment, in education – these changes did not just happen spontaneously. Women themselves made these changes happen, very deliberately. Women have not been the passive recipients of miraculous changes in laws and human nature. Seven generations of women have come together to affect these changes in the most democratic ways: through meetings, petition drives, lobbying, public speaking, and nonviolent resistance. They have worked very deliberately to create a better world, and they have succeeded hugely.

Throughout 1998, the 150th anniversary of the Women’s Rights Movement is being celebrated across the nation with programs and events taking every form imaginable. Like many amazing stories, the history of the Women’s Rights Movement began with a small group of people questioning why human lives were being unfairly constricted.

A Tea Launches a Revolution
The Women’s Rights Movement marks July 13, 1848 as its beginning. On that sweltering summer day in upstate New York, a young housewife and mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was invited to tea with four women friends. When the course of their conversation turned to the situation of women, Stanton poured out her discontent with the limitations placed on her own situation under America’s new democracy. Hadn’t the American Revolution had been fought just 70 years earlier to win the patriots freedom from tyranny? But women had not gained freedom even though they’d taken equally tremendous risks through those dangerous years. Surely the new republic would benefit from having its women play more active roles throughout society. Stanton’s friends agreed with her, passionately. This was definitely not the first small group of women to have such a conversation, but it was the first to plan and carry out a specific, large-scale program.

Today we are living the legacy of this afternoon conversation among women friends. Throughout 1998, events celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Women’s Rights Movement are looking at the massive changes these women set in motion when they daringly agreed to convene the world’s first Women’s Rights Convention.

Within two days of their afternoon tea together, this small group had picked a date for their convention, found a suitable location, and placed a small announcement in the Seneca County Courier. They called “A convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” The gathering would take place at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20, 1848.

In the history of western civilization, no similar public meeting had ever been called.

A “Declaration of Sentiments” is Drafted
These were patriotic women, sharing the ideal of improving the new republic. They saw their mission as helping the republic keep its promise of better, more egalitarian lives for its citizens. As the women set about preparing for the event, Elizabeth Cady Stanton used the Declaration of Independence as the framework for writing what she titled a “Declaration of Sentiments.” In what proved to be a brilliant move, Stanton connected the nascent campaign for women’s rights directly to that powerful American symbol of liberty. The same familiar words framed their arguments: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In this Declaration of Sentiments, Stanton carefully enumerated areas of life where women were treated unjustly. Eighteen was precisely the number of grievances America’s revolutionary forefathers had listed in their Declaration of Independence from England.

Stanton’s version read, “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.” Then it went into specifics:

  • Married women were legally dead in the eyes of the law
  • Women were not allowed to vote
  • Women had to submit to laws when they had no voice in their formation
  • Married women had no property rights
  • Husbands had legal power over and responsibility for their wives to the extent that they could imprison or beat them with impunity
  • Divorce and child custody laws favored men, giving no rights to women
  • Women had to pay property taxes although they had no representation in the levying of these taxes
  • Most occupations were closed to women and when women did work they were paid only a fraction of what men earned
  • Women were not allowed to enter professions such as medicine or law
  • Women had no means to gain an education since no college or university would accept women students
  • With only a few exceptions, women were not allowed to participate in the affairs of the church
  • Women were robbed of their self-confidence and self-respect, and were made totally dependent on men

Strong words… Large grievances… And remember: This was just seventy years after the Revolutionary War. Doesn’t it seem surprising to you that this unfair treatment of women was the norm in this new, very idealistic democracy? But this Declaration of Sentiments spelled out what was the status quo for European-American women in 1848 America, while it was even worse for enslaved Black women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s draft continued: “Now, in view of this entire disenfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, — in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”

That summer, change was in the air and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was full of hope that the future could and would be brighter for women.

The First Women’s Rights Convention
The convention was convened as planned, and over the two-days of discussion, the Declaration of Sentiments and 12 resolutions received unanimous endorsement, one by one, with a few amendments. The only resolution that did not pass unanimously was the call for women’s enfranchisement. That women should be allowed to vote in elections was almost inconceivable to many. Lucretia Mott, Stanton’s longtime friend, had been shocked when Stanton had first suggested such an idea. And at the convention, heated debate over the woman’s vote filled the air.

Today, it’s hard for us to imagine this, isn’t it? Even the heartfelt pleas of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a refined and educated woman of the time, did not move the assembly. Not until Frederick Douglass, the noted Black abolitionist and rich orator, started to speak, did the uproar subside. Woman, like the slave, he argued, had the right to liberty. “Suffrage,” he asserted, “is the power to choose rulers and make laws, and the right by which all others are secured.” In the end, the resolution won enough votes to carry, but by a bare majority.

The Declaration of Sentiments ended on a note of complete realism: “In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country.”

The Backlash Begins
Stanton was certainly on the mark when she anticipated “misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule.” Newspaper editors were so scandalized by the shameless audacity of the Declaration of Sentiments, and particularly of the ninth resolution — women demanding the vote!– that they attacked the women with all the vitriol they could muster. The women’s rights movement was only one day old and the backlash had already begun!

In ridicule, the entire text of the Declaration of Sentiments was often published, with the names of the signers frequently included. Just as ridicule today often has a squelching effect on new ideas, this attack in the press caused many people from the Convention to rethink their positions. Many of the women who had attended the convention were so embarrassed by the publicity that they actually withdrew their signatures from the Declaration. But most stood firm. And something the editors had not anticipated happened: Their negative articles about the women’s call for expanded rights were so livid and widespread that they actually had a positive impact far beyond anything the organizers could have hoped for. People in cities and isolated towns alike were now alerted to the issues, and joined this heated discussion of women’s rights in great numbers!

The Movement Expands
The Seneca Falls women had optimistically hoped for “a series of conventions embracing every part of the country.” And that’s just what did happen. Women’s Rights Conventions were held regularly from 1850 until the start of the Civil War. Some drew such large crowds that people actually had to be turned away for lack of sufficient meeting space!

The women’s rights movement of the late 19th century went on to address the wide range of issues spelled out at the Seneca Falls Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and women like Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth traveled the country lecturing and organizing for the next forty years. Eventually, winning the right to vote emerged as the central issue, since the vote would provide the means to achieve the other reforms. All told, the campaign for woman suffrage met such staunch opposition that it took 72 years for the women and their male supporters to be successful.

As you might imagine, any 72-year campaign includes thousands of political strategists, capable organizers, administrators, activists and lobbyists. The story of diligent women’s rights activism is a litany of achievements against tremendous odds, of ingenious strategies and outrageous tactics used to outwit opponents and make the most of limited resources. It’s a dramatic tale, filled with remarkable women facing down incredible obstacles to win that most basic American civil right – the vote.

Among these women are several activists whose names and and accomplishments should become as familiar to Americans as those of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton, of course. And Susan B. Anthony. Matilda Joslyn Gage. Lucy Stone. They were pioneer theoreticians of the 19th-century women’s rights movement.
  • Esther Morris, the first woman to hold a judicial position, who led the first successful state campaign for woman suffrage, in Wyoming in 1869. Abigail Scott Duniway, the leader of the successful fight in Oregon and Washington in the early 1900s.
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell, organizers of thousands of African-American women who worked for suffrage for all women.
  • Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone’s daughter, who carried on their mothers’ legacy through the next generation.
  • Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in the early years of the 20th century, who brought the campaign to its final success.
  • Alice Paul, founder and leader of the National Woman’s Party, considered the radical wing of the movement.
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now a Supreme Court Justice, learned the story of the Women’s Rights Movement. Today she says, “I think about how much we owe to the women who went before us – legions of women, some known but many more unknown. I applaud the bravery and resilience of those who helped all of us – you and me – to be here today.”

After the Vote was Won
After the vote was finally won in 1920, the organized Women’s Rights Movement continued on in several directions. While the majority of women who had marched, petitioned and lobbied for woman suffrage looked no further, a minority – like Alice Paul – understood that the quest for women’s rights would be an ongoing struggle that was only advanced, not satisfied, by the vote.

In 1919, as the suffrage victory drew near, the National American Woman Suffrage Association reconfigured itself into the League of Women Voters to ensure that women would take their hard-won vote seriously and use it wisely.

In 1920, the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor was established to gather information about the situation of women at work, and to advocate for changes it found were needed. Many suffragists became actively involved with lobbying for legislation to protect women workers from abuse and unsafe conditions.

In 1923, Alice Paul, the leader of the National Woman’s Party, took the next obvious step. She drafted an Equal Rights Amendment for the United States Constitution. Such a federal law, it was argued, would ensure that “Men and women have equal rights throughout the United States.” A constitutional amendment would apply uniformly, regardless of where a person lived.

The second wing of the post-suffrage movement was one that had not been explicitly anticipated in the Seneca Falls “Declaration of Sentiments.” It was the birth control movement, initiated by a public health nurse, Margaret Sanger, just as the suffrage drive was nearing its victory. The idea of woman’s right to control her own body, and especially to control her own reproduction and sexuality, added a visionary new dimension to the ideas of women’s emancipation. This movement not only endorsed educating women about existing birth control methods. It also spread the conviction that meaningful freedom for modern women meant they must be able to decide for themselves whether they would become mothers, and when. For decades, Margaret Sanger and her supporters faced down at every turn the zealously enforced laws denying women this right. In 1936, a Supreme Court decision declassified birth control information as obscene. Still, it was not until 1965 that married couples in all states could obtain contraceptives legally.

The Second Wave
So it’s clear that, contrary to common misconception, the Women’s Rights Movement did not begin in the 1960s. What occurred in the 1960s was actually a second wave of activism that washed into the public consciousness, fueled by several seemingly independent events of that turbulent decade. Each of these events brought a different segment of the population into the movement.

First: Esther Peterson was the director of the Women’s Bureau of the Dept. of Labor in 1961. She considered it to be the government’s responsibility to take an active role in addressing discrimination against women. With her encouragement, President Kennedy convened a Commission on the Status of Women, naming Eleanor Roosevelt as its chair. The report issued by that commission in 1963 documented discrimination against women in virtually every area of American life. State and local governments quickly followed suit and established their own commissions for women, to research conditions and recommend changes that could be initiated.

Then: In 1963, Betty Friedan published a landmark book, The Feminine Mystique. The Feminine Mystique evolved out of a survey she had conducted for her 20-year college reunion. In it she documented the emotional and intellectual oppression that middle-class educated women were experiencing because of limited life options. The book became an immediate bestseller, and inspired thousands of women to look for fulfillment beyond the role of homemaker.

Next: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, religion, and national origin. The category “sex” was included as a last-ditch effort to kill the bill. But it passed, nevertheless. With its passage, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established to investigate discrimination complaints. Within the commission’s first five years, it received 50,000 sex discrimination complaints. But it was quickly obvious that the commission was not very interested in pursuing these complaints. Betty Friedan, the chairs of the various state Commissions on the Status of Women, and other feminists agreed to form a civil rights organization for women similar to the NAACP. In 1966, the National Organization for Women was organized, soon to be followed by an array of other mass-membership organizations addressing the needs of specific groups of women, including Blacks, Latinas, Asians-Americans, lesbians, welfare recipients, business owners, aspiring politicians, and tradeswomen and professional women of every sort.

During this same time, thousands of young women on college campuses were playing active roles within the anti-war and civil rights movement. At least,that was their intention. Many were finding their efforts blocked by men who felt leadership of these movements was their own province, and that women’s roles should be limited to fixing food and running mimeograph machines. It wasn’t long before these young women began forming their own “women’s liberation” organizations to address their role and status within these progressive movements and within society at large.

New Issues Come to the Fore
These various elements of the re-emerging Women’s Rights Movement worked together and separately on a wide range of issues. Small groups of women in hundreds of communities worked on grassroots projects like establishing women’s newspapers, bookstores and cafes. They created battered women’s shelters and rape crisis hotlines to care for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. They came together to form child care centers so women could work outside their homes for pay. Women health care professionals opened women’s clinics to provide birth control and family planning counseling — and to offer abortion services — for low-income women. These clinics provided a safe place to discuss a wide range of health concerns and experiment with alternative forms of treatment.

With the inclusion of Title IX in the Education Codes of 1972, equal access to higher education and to professional schools became the law. The long-range effect of that one straightforward legal passage beginning “Equal access to education programs…,” has been simply phenomenal. The number of women doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and other professionals has doubled and doubled again as quotas actually limiting women’s enrollment in graduate schools were outlawed. Athletics has probably been the most hotly contested area of Title IX, and it’s been one of the hottest areas of improvement, too. The rise in girls’ and women’s participation in athletics tells the story: One in twenty-seven high school girls played sports 25 years ago; one in three do today. The whole world saw how much American women athletes could achieve during the last few Olympic Games, measured in their astonishing numbers of gold, silver, and bronze medals. This was another very visible result of Title IX.

In society at large, the Women’s Rights Movement has brought about measurable changes, too. In 1972, 26% of men and women said they would not vote for a woman for president. In 1996, that sentiment had plummeted to just over 5% for women and to 8% for men. The average age of women when they first marry has moved from twenty to twenty-four during that same period.

But perhaps the most dramatic impact of the women’s rights movement of the past few decades has been women’s financial liberation. Do you realize that just 25 years ago married women were not issued credit cards in their own name? That most women could not get a bank loan without a male co-signer? That women working full time earned fifty-nine cents to every dollar earned by men?

Help-wanted ads in newspapers were segregated into “Help wanted – women” and “Help wanted- men.” Pages and pages of jobs were announced for which women could not even apply. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled this illegal in 1968, but since the EEOC had little enforcement power, most newspapers ignored the requirement for years. The National Organization for Women (NOW), had to argue the issue all the way to the Supreme Court to make it possible for a woman today to hold any job for which she is qualified. And so now we see women in literally thousands of occupations which would have been almost unthinkable just one generation ago: dentist, bus driver, veterinarian, airline pilot, and phone installer, just to name a few.

Many of these changes came about because of legislation and court cases pushed by women’s organizations. But many of the advances women achieved in the 1960s and ’70s were personal: getting husbands to help with the housework or regularly take responsibility for family meals; getting a long-deserved promotion at work; gaining the financial and emotional strength to leave an abusive partner.

The Equal Rights Amendment Is Re-Introduced
Then, in 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment, which had languished in Congress for almost fifty years, was finally passed and sent to the states for ratification. The wording of the ERA was simple: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” To many women’s rights activists, its ratification by the required thirty-eight states seemed almost a shoo-in.

The campaign for state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment provided the opportunity for millions of women across the nation to become actively involved in the Women’s Rights Movement in their own communities. Unlike so many other issues which were battled-out in Congress or through the courts, this issue came to each state to decide individually. Women’s organizations of every stripe organized their members to help raise money and generate public support for the ERA. Marches were staged in key states that brought out hundreds of thousands of supporters. House meetings, walk-a-thons, door-to-door canvassing, and events of every imaginable kind were held by ordinary women, many of whom had never done anything political in their lives before. Generous checks and single dollar bills poured into the campaign headquarters, and the ranks of NOW and other women’s rights organizations swelled to historic sizes. Every women’s magazine and most general interest publications had stories on the implications of the ERA, and the progress of the ratification campaign.

But Elizabeth Cady Stanton proved prophetic once again. Remember her prediction that the movement should “anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule”? Opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment, organized by Phyllis Schlafly, feared that a statement like the ERA in the Constitution would give the government too much control over our personal lives. They charged that passage of the ERA would lead to men abandoning their families, unisex toilets, gay marriages, and women being drafted. And the media, purportedly in the interest of balanced reporting, gave equal weight to these deceptive arguments just as they had when the possibility of women winning voting rights was being debated. And, just like had happened with woman suffrage, there were still very few women in state legislatures to vote their support, so male legislators once again had it in their power to decide if women should have equal rights. When the deadline for ratification came in 1982, the ERA was just three states short of the 38 needed to write it into the U.S. constitution. Seventy-five percent of the women legislators in those three pivotal states supported the ERA, but only 46% of the men voted to ratify.

Despite polls consistently showing a large majority of the population supporting the ERA, it was considered by many politicians to be just too controversial. Historically speaking, most if not all the issues of the women’s rights movement have been highly controversial when they were first voiced. Allowing women to go to college? That would shrink their reproductive organs! Employ women in jobs for pay outside their homes? That would destroy families! Cast votes in national elections? Why should they bother themselves with such matters? Participate in sports? No lady would ever want to perspire! These and other issues that were once considered scandalous and unthinkable are now almost universally accepted in this country.

More Complex Issues Surface
Significant progress has been made regarding the topics discussed at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. The people attending that landmark discussion would not even have imagined the issues of the Women’s Rights Movement in the 1990s. Much of the discussion has moved beyond the issue of equal rights and into territory that is controversial, even among feminists. To name a few:

  • Women’s reproductive rights. Whether or not women can terminate pregnancies is still controversial twenty-five years after the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade affirmed women’s choice during the first two trimesters.
  • Women’s enrollment in military academies and service in active combat. Are these desirable?
  • Women in leadership roles in religious worship. Controversial for some, natural for others.
  • Affirmative action. Is help in making up for past discrimination appropriate? Do qualified women now face a level playing field?
  • The mommy track. Should businesses accommodate women’s family responsibilities, or should women compete evenly for advancement with men, most of whom still assume fewer family obligations?
  • Pornography. Is it degrading, even dangerous, to women, or is it simply a free speech issue?
  • Sexual harassment. Just where does flirting leave off and harassment begin?
  • Surrogate motherhood. Is it simply the free right of a woman to hire out her womb for this service?
  • Social Security benefits allocated equally for homemakers and their working spouses, to keep surviving wives from poverty as widows.

Today, young women proudly calling themselves “the third wave” are confronting these and other thorny issues. While many women may still be hesitant to call themselves “feminist” because of the ever-present backlash, few would give up the legacy of personal freedoms and expanded opportunities women have won over the last 150 years. Whatever choices we make for our own lives, most of us envision a world for our daughters, nieces and granddaughters where all girls and women will have the opportunity to develop their unique skills and talents and pursue their dreams.

1998: Living the Legacy
In the 150 years since that first, landmark Women’s Rights Convention, women have made clear progress in the areas addressed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her revolutionary Declaration of Sentiments. Not only have women won the right to vote; we are being elected to public office at all levels of government. Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress, in 1916. By 1971, three generations later, women were still less than three percent of our congressional representatives. Today women hold only 11% of the seats in Congress, and 21% of the state legislative seats. Yet, in the face of such small numbers, women have successfully changed thousands of local, state, and federal laws that had limited women’s legal status and social roles.

In the world of work, large numbers of women have entered the professions, the trades, and businesses of every kind. We have opened the ranks of the clergy, the military, the newsroom. More than three million women now work in occupations considered “nontraditional” until very recently.

We’ve accomplished so much, yet a lot still remains to be done. Substantial barriers to the full equality of America’s women still remain before our freedom as a Nation can be called complete. But the Women’s Rights Movement has clearly been successful in irrevocably changing the circumstances and hopes of women. The remaining injustices are being tackled daily in the courts and conference rooms, the homes and organizations, workplaces and playing fields of America.

Women and girls today are living the legacy of women’s rights that seven generations of women before us have given their best to achieve. Alice Paul, that intrepid organizer who first wrote out the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, said, “I always feel the movement is sort of a mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.” Women, acting together, adding their small stones to the grand mosaic, have increased their rights against all odds, nonviolently, from an initial position of powerlessness. We have a lot to be proud of in this heroic legacy, and a great deal to celebrate on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the Women’s Rights Movement.

© By Bonnie Eisenberg and Mary Ruthsdotter, the National Women’s History Project. 1998

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Black Women’s History Challenge

(Quiz Created by Margaret Zierdt, National Women’s History Project Board Member)

    1. Who was head of National Council of Negro Women for 40 years and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for her work for social equality?
    2. Who was the performer who started out as a chorus girl at the Cotton Club and had a 70 year career in film, television, and theater, while also working tirelessly as an advocate for civil rights?
    3. Who was member of Harlem Renaissance, an anthropologist, and author of many books, including Their Eyes Were Watching God?
    4. Who was the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field – in the 1960 Olympics for the 100 and 200 meters and the 400 meter relay?
    5. Who was denied permission to sing in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) auditorium because of her race in 1939, but later became the first black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955?
    6. Who is the dancer, singer, actor, fund raiser, author, and poet who read a specially-composed poem at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993?
    7. Who was a nightclub and cabaret idol of Paris in the 1920’s and a freedom fighter during World War II?
    8. What black woman chemist developed an extract from the Awa Root which relieved leprosy symptoms when injected and which was widely used until sulfa drugs were invented in the 1940’s?
    9. Who was a civil rights activist and President of the Arkansas NAACP who advised the nine high school students who integrated the Little Rock public schools in 1957?
    10. Who founded the college that became the Bethune-Cookman University in Florida and founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935?
    11. Who was the first black female newspaper publisher and editor in North America (in Ontario, Canada), and the first black woman to enroll in law school (Howard University)?
    12. Who was the first black woman in the world to earn a pilot’s license, and was a barnstorming aviator who performed daredevil tricks?
    13. Who was the first black Congresswoman, beginning in 1968, and who in 1972 ran for President and won 151 delegates at the Democratic Convention?
    14. Who was America’s first great black choreographer, dancer, and teacher who formed the first black dance troupe in the 1940s?
    15. Who founded the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973, a group focusing on helping millions of children living in poverty?
    16. Who was first black woman to win a tennis championship at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open?
    17. Who was the first black woman to write a Broadway play (1959) which was made into a movie (1961), A Raisin in the Sun?
    18. Who was the first black concert pianist to play with a European orchestra in 1904?
    19. Who was first woman of color to go into space on the shuttle Endeavor in 1992?
    20. Who was the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Carter in 1977, and then served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in 1979?
    21. Who was the first woman bank president in America?
    22. What slave named Isabella became a fiery orator supporting anti-slavery and woman suffrage after gaining her freedom?
    23. Who is considered the first black woman journalist who advocated for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery?
    24. Who was an award-winning poet who penned For My People in 1942, and a novelist who wrote Jubilee in 1966?
    25. Who was the black educator who founded the National Training School for Girls about 1909 in Washington, D.C., which was re-named in her honor after her death?
    26. What woman was the first African-American in New England to serve as Master of a public high school which position she held for 40 years?
    27. Who was the first black woman lawyer in the U.S. and the first woman admitted to the District of Columbia bar (1872)?
    28. Who won the 2-day, seven-event heptathlon competition at the Goodwill Games in July, 1986 and won a gold medal in the heptathlon at the Olympics in 1988 and 1992?
    29. What educator was the fourth African American woman to earn a doctoral degree (from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in 1924)?
    30. Who was first African-American woman to earn a BA degree in United States – from Oberlin College in 1862?
    31. Who was the first black president of an Ivy League University and the first female president of Brown University?
    32. What abstract painter was the first fine arts student to graduate from Howard University, and the first woman to have a solo exhibit at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City?
    33. What female athlete is considered “the fastest woman of all time” and set the record for the 100 and 200 meters in 1988?
    34. Who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad and secured the freedom of at least 300 enslaved people, making 19 trips into the South over 10 years, and served as a spy and scout for the Union Army?
    35. Who helped black artists and disadvantaged children while winning 13 Grammy Awards and being honored as the “First Lady of Song”?            
    36. What anthropology professor became the first African-American woman president of Spelman College in 1987?  
    37. What actress appeared in Gone With the Wind, received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1975, and won an Emmy for her role on television in 1979?   
    38. Who became a self-made millionaire philanthropist after creating a hair product sold house-to-house, and later held what may be the first national meeting of businesswomen in the U.S. in 1917?
    39. Who was the first African-American woman to become an ordained minister, a lawyer who helped found the first legal periodical about women’s rights, and co-founded the National Organization of Women?
    40. What African-American woman was born enslaved, gained her freedom in 1856, became a entrepreneur and philanthropist, and co-founded the first black church in Los Angles?

Click here for the answers

      1. Dorothy Height (1912 – 2010)
      2. Lena Horne (1917 – 2010)
      3. Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960)
      4. Wilma Rudolph (1940 – 1994)
      5. Marian Anderson (1897 – 1993)
      6. Maya Angelou (1928 -2014)
      7. Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975)
      8. Alice Ball (1892 – 1916)
      9. Daisy Bates (1914 – 1999)
      10. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875 – 1955)
      11. Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823 – 1893)
      12. Bessie Coleman (1892 – 1926)
      13. Shirley Chisholm (1924 – 2005)
      14. Katherine Dunham (1909 – 2006)
      15. Marian Wright Edelman (1939)
      16. Althea Gibson (1927 – 2003)
      17. Lorraine Hansberry (1930 – 1965)
      18. Hazel Harrison (1883 – 1969)
      19. Mae Jemison (1956)
      20. Patricia Roberts Harris (1924 – 1985)
      21. Maggie Lena Walker (1867 – 1934)
      22. Sojourner Truth (c. 1797 – 1883)
      23. Maria Stewart (1803 – 1879)
      24. Margaret Walker Alexander (1915 – 1998)
      25. Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879 – 1961)
      26. Maria Louise Baldwin (1856 – 1922)
      27. Charlotte E. Ray (1850 – 1911)
      28. Jacqueline “Jackie” Joyner Kersee (1962)
      29. Anna Julia Cooper (1858 or 59 – 1964)
      30. Mary Jane Patterson (1840 – 1894)
      31. Ruth Simmons (1945)
      32. Alma Thomas (1891 – 1978)
      33. Delorez Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith Joyner (1959 – 1998)
      34. Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross, c.1822 – 1913)
      35. Ella Fitzgerald (1917 – 1996)
      36. Johnnetta Cole (1936)
      37. Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen (1911 – 1995)
      38. Madam C.J. Walker (1867 – 1919)
      39. Pauli Murray (1910 – 1985)
      40. Biddy Mason (1818 – 1891)
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2010 Gazette

The Making of Women’s History Month

 By  Pam Elam
The quest to know our history as women and the desire to use that knowledge in our organizing efforts for women’s equality converged almost 31 years ago at Sarah Lawrence College in a 1979 Summer Institute in Women’s History for Leaders of Women’s Organizations.  As a graduate student in the SLC Women’s History Program, I was proud to be a Teaching Assistant at that Institute.  In 2004, I was also proud to organize a 25th Anniversary Reunion of the Institute’s participants honoring Dr. Gerda Lerner, the Director of the Summer Institute and the Founder of the Sarah Lawrence College Master’s Program in Women’s History, the nation’s first.
From July 14-31, 1979, leaders of major women’s organizations from across the nation met at the SLC Summer Institute, which was co-sponsored by the Women’s Action Alliance led by Ruth Abram.  These leaders became students in an intensive crash course in Women’s History challenged with the goal of integrating that history into the work of their organizations and the consciousness of their communities.  Out of that Institute came a resolution, offered by Molly MacGregor, the representative from the Sonoma County Commission on Women, calling for the creation of National Women’s History Week to honor and celebrate contributions made by women to the history of the United States.
The National Women’s History Week resolution that Molly MacGregor brought to all of us at the Summer Institute was a gift.  As a Feminist organizer, I recognized the value of that gift as both an organizing tool and a life-changing learning experience.  As soon as the Summer Institute was over, I stated working with Molly and the other Summer Institute Participants to bring the National Women’s History Week Resolution to life.  Since I was still in graduate school, I created a practicum approved by Gerda Lerner that allowed a framework for me to use graduate program time to organize.  Joined in the practicum by another graduate student, Peggy Pascoe, Peggy and I lobbied for the introduction of a Congressional Resolution creating National Women’s History Week (introduced by Representative Barbara Mikulski on Feb. 27, 1980) and urged President Jimmy Carter to issue a proclamation (Presidential Message of Support sent on Feb. 28, 1980).  We contacted state governors and city mayors throughout the country requesting proclamations designating Women’s History Week (Governors in 14 States issued proclamations for the week containing March 8, 1980, including my home state of Kentucky and Peggy’s home state of Montana).  We also organized Women’s History Week meetings, programs and press conferences in the New York City area.  But this is just one example of the many activities taking place around the country as a result of the National Women’s History Week resolution adopted by the participants of the 1979 Summer Institute.  In 1980, the newly created National Women’s History Project began to lead the charge for the Resolution and has continued to do so for nearly thirty years.  In many ways, the years since the Summer of ‘ 79 and the 1980 birth of the National Women’s History Project offer a lesson in the power of history.
Anyone who works for social change is very familiar with the concept of “reinventing the wheel.”  It simply means doing what others have already done because you didn’t know they’d done it.  Had you known, you might have learned from it and acted differently.  That’s what learning from history is all about.  And for women it has a special meaning, because so much of our history has been hidden from us and has only been brought to light in the last few decades through the valiant work of Feminist historians, scholars and activists.

In a brilliant 1938 essay on the differences between women and men, THREE GUINEAS, Virginia Woolf described the history of the continuing fight for women’s equality this way: “Almost the same daughters ask almost the same brothers for almost the same privileges. Almost the same gentlemen intone almost the same refusals for almost the same reasons. It seems as if there were no progress in the human race, but only repetition.” Repetition, reinventing the wheel and generations of women around the world who live and die as second class citizens – how can we change that? Much as history haunts and taunts us at times like these, it can also provide a light shining the way out of the darkness of injustice and inequality. Learning from a “history” which fully and fairly includes the vast and varied contributions of women and people of color offers a departure point in our search for social change. We re-think the past to re-shape the future.

Through the “gift” of Women’s History, we discover an historical treasure chest, overflowing with the stories of women who serve to inspire and energize us.  We learn of their strategies and tactics in the battle for equality.  We build on their work.  We honor their memories.  We vow to complete their journeys.  We begin to understand the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression.  We start to build coalitions across boundaries based upon race, ethnicity and nationality, class, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion or any other kind  of “difference” that threatens to divide us.  We begin to understand power:  who has it, who doesn’t and how to change that situation.  In the words of the women from the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, we begin “to move history forward.” 
For 30 years, National Women’s History Week, later Month, has not only inspired us, it has challenged us to keep moving history forward.  The knowledge of Women’s History is a priceless gift that nourishes our spirits and enriches our lives.  Few participants of the 1979 Summer Institute could have predicted the lasting power of National Women’s History Week, but many certainly experienced the power Women’s History to expand their vision of the world and their place in it.  In 2004, at the 25th Anniversary Reunion, almost half of the Institute participants returned to the Sarah Lawrence campus to share how that knowledge of Women’s History had changed their lives.  As Gerda Lerner put it: “I’m quite overwhelmed by the gift you gave me by your presence, your testimony, your generous words and, above all, by the activities you have engendered, by the organizational outreach you have created.  I have had many honors in the past decades, but nothing has moved me and affected me as this reunion has.  The power of Women’s History as a force for organizing has never been more real to me than now.”

Pam Elam made her first public speech in support of Women’s Rights in 1964 at the Kentucky State Speech Festival when she was 13 years old and has been organizing ever since. Her proudest feminist moments include: helping to organize the 1972 campaign to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed in the Kentucky General Assembly; being elected a delegate to the 1977 National Women’s Conference; earning her Master’s Degree in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College in 1980; organizing the non-violent civil disobedience demonstrations of the Congressional Union at the White House in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and in 1981 getting arrested for burning an effigy of then President Ronald Reagan; organizing over a hundred hearings on Women’s Issues in the New York City Council’s Committee on Women from 1980-1989; organizing the first ever Presidential Candidates debate on women’s Issues in NYC in 1988; getting the NYC Council to approve legislation in 2004 naming “Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Corner” near the site where Anthony and Stanton wrote their newspaper THE REVOLUTION; co-organizing the “Freedom on Our Terms Conference” in NYC in 2007 to honor the 30th Anniversary of the National Women’s Conference; and creating “Women’s Rights, Historic Sites: A Manhattan Map of Milestones” in 2008.


Maryland Women’s History Project and Maryland Women’s Heritage Center – A Brief History

I need to know their names
those women I would have walked with…
all those women who could have known me.
Where in the world are their names?
Lucile Clifton, Former Poet Laureate of Maryland

To make visible the rich history of the contributions of women whose names were often missing in traditional textbooks and classrooms in Maryland and nationally, the Maryland Women’s History Project was established in 1980 as a collaboration between the Maryland Commission for Women and the Maryland State Department of Education. In March of 1980, with the leadership of the Sonoma County Commission for Women and Molly Murphy MacGregor, founder of the National Women’s History Project, National Women’s History Week was established through an act of Congress (sponsored by then Maryland Congresswoman Barbara A. Mikulski). At the same time, Maryland Women’s History Week was declared by the Maryland Legislature and Governor, under the leadership of the Maryland Women’s History Project founder, educator and activist Jill Moss Greenberg, and her colleagues. Prior to 1980 there were no official observances of women’s history in Maryland, and most people were unaware of the many contributions made by girls and women throughout the history of the state and in every corner of it. In 1987 Women’s History Week became Women’s History Month, both in Maryland and nationwide.

The goal of the Maryland Women’s History Project was to re-frame history, to shape a history which was genuinely inclusive of the great diversity among Maryland’s women – culture, race, disability, language, age, religion, etc. The women and women’s organizations that were profiled were also geographically diverse, representing all areas of Maryland, from the water women of its Eastern Shore to the craftswomen of Western Maryland. It was important to tell the stories of everyone, the history of everywoman and everyman, instead of a history only about a few “stars,” largely political, military or in fields such as entertainment. The materials produced in 1981 and for every succeeding year until 2005 were multicultural and reflected the contributions not just of “famous” Maryland women, but also of the “unsung heroines” who built and sustained families and institutions, who often led struggles for social justice, and who were instrumental in transmitting cultural traditions.

Beginning in 1981, resource materials profiling historical and contemporary Maryland women were developed annually by the Maryland Women’s History Project and distributed to every public school and library in the state, as well as to local commissions for women and other women’s organizations. The development of these kits was coordinated by Linda Shevitz at the Maryland State Department of Education. In addition to biographical information, the resource kits included a statewide speakers list, coordinated by the Maryland Commission for Women, on a range of women’s history topics.

The Annual Maryland Women’s History kits were expanded over the years to include lesson plans and suggested community activities, as well as compilations of organizational, written, and media resources. Schools and community groups shared information about the local initiatives and programs that grew out of the Maryland Women’s History Project and its resource materials. Each year the kits reflected a particular theme, such as Maryland Women in Science and Mathematics, Maryland Women in the Arts, Maryland Women in Law and Government, etc. In the 1990’s, at the request of educators, bulletin board display kits were featured, with photographs, biographical profiles, interviews, and photographs of contemporary Maryland women. In 2005, A Maryland Women’s Heritage Trail Kit was developed with a fold-out map and a booklet, which highlighted more than 150 historic sites in every area of the state that related to women’s history.

With a rich collection of materials and programs from more that two decades that raised awareness and substantively filled the gap of existing material, the idea of establishing a permanent site to honor Maryland women was born. In 2005 the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center was established, a non-profit, non-partisan public/private partnership organization with a mission to “preserve the past, understand the present, and shape the future by recognizing, respecting, and transmitting the experiences and contributions of Maryland women of diverse backgrounds and from all regions of the state.” The Heritage Center is being created to be a place to honor women’s contributions but also as a leadership center and a living, interactive site to meet to discuss and act on issues of particular importance to women, girls, and families. Many organizations statewide and locally became active supporters of the Heritage Center and will use the Center for some of their meetings or events.

In 2009 the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center established a small temporary start-up site in Baltimore. In the future, the Center will be located in a permanent site which will house the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame (established in 1985 by the Women Legislators of Maryland and the Maryland Commission for Women), the Maryland Women’s History Project, exhibits on unsung heroines and on “famous” Maryland women such as Harriet Tubman, Rachel Carson, and Clara Barton. Also featured with be a research and learning center, a resource center with media materials and books and articles by and about Maryland women, a gift shop featuring arts and crafts by Maryland women, and meeting spaces for use by community groups. The Maryland Women’s Heritage Center will be an active, alive place. It will serve as a statewide focal point to convene, discuss and take action about issues critical to girls, women and their families. Since its inception the Heritage Center has sponsored many educational programs across the state, and maintains a website ( and a quarterly electronic newsletter.

The Maryland Women’s Heritage Center Board of Directors reflects a wide range of statewide representation of individuals from many different areas of interest, and includes the current and past two First Ladies of Maryland. Former First Lady Frances Hughes Glendening currently serves as President, and Jill Moss Greenberg, founder of the Maryland Women’s History Project, is the Executive Director of the Center. Serving on the Honorary Board are such Maryland women leaders as U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, author and commentator Cokie Roberts, Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes, former Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, poet Lucille Clifton, and the author Nora Roberts.

For more information, visit the Heritage Canter website or contact Jill Moss Greenberg, Executive Director, at or Program Coordinator, Linda Shevitz at

A Summary of the Return of the “Portrait” (Suffrage) Monument to the US Capitol Rotunda from the US Capitol Crypt

By Joan Meacham

On a beautiful crisp 1992 fall day, five women sat contemplating a seemingly overwhelming task. We had just committed to moving a marble statue that weighed seven tons from the lower level of the U.S. Capitol to the Rotunda, as part of their celebration planning for the suffrage 75th anniversary 1995 celebration. The statue, labeled the Portrait Monument by Congress, was commissioned in 1920 to honor the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote.

In 1921, the statue was reluctantly accepted by an all male Congress as a gift from the National Woman’s Party (NWP) on behalf of American women and in honor of the 72 year battle for voting rights. An unveiling ceremony with state representation from every state of the Union was held on February 10, 1921. A short time thereafter, Congress moved the statue to a broom closet in the capitol crypt. Alice Paul, suffragist leader and NWP founder, and colleagues visited the statue, cleaned it, and held rallies on each Woman’s Equality Day. The statue was later moved out of the closet and into the Crypt, without identification.

Sculpted by Adelaide Johnson and commissioned by the National Woman’s Party, the monument depicts the three suffrage movement founders, Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister, abolitionist, and peace advocate, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, architect and author of the suffrage movement’s most important strategies and documents, and Susan B. Anthony, abolitionist, temperance advocate, and spokesperson.

An unfinished portion behind these visionaries represents all women supporting suffrage and equality for women. The founders are rising out of a large marble structure which exemplifies rights not enjoyed by women, which included legal ownership of property, guardianship rights of their children, and voting rights.

As I reminisce about that autumn day, I am amazed at our enthusiasm and innocence as we confidently prepared our list of major tasks ahead in light of the forthcoming 1995 75th woman suffrage anniversary. Our ultimate success is due, I’m certain, to the talent and dedication in that room that fateful day. Looking around the room I commented “It is time to have our Foremothers with our Forefathers.” That phrase became our rallying cry. Little did we know that resistance to allowing these remarkable women to reside in the Rotunda along with some of our nation’s male leaders would prove to be as strong in the 1990’s as it had originally been in the 1920’s.

Grassroots lobbying efforts for the suffrage statue campaign began in earnest in late 1992. Following many meetings on Capitol Hill, Senator Ted Stevens, whose grandmother had been a suffragist and taught him the suffragist songs, spearheaded a Senate unanimous resolution to return the statue to the Rotunda. He was reputed to have said “It is time for the Ladies to Come Upstairs.” We were half-way there!

Lobbying continued in the House with arguments such as the “the women are ugly, too old,” or the statue “too heavy” along with “radical women do not belong in the capitol rotunda.” There was mistrust and others demonstrated a complete lack of interest. House leadership, due to misunderstandings or lack of understanding fought the move aggressively.

During the successful 75th Anniversary events a press conference and rally, with Senator John Warner speaking, was held in front of the monument in the capitol crypt along with the launching of our fund raising efforts in order to pay for the moving costs. These costs were first estimated at 75,000, but were later raised to 120,000.

Since I was now working on the Women’s History Museum development (NWHM) the statue campaign was transferred to NWHM as their first project. Monies trickled in, always accelerated when the media published articles about the statue or discussions on the Hill, pro and con, regarding the move. Another year passed with our lobbying efforts still only half-way there! The CEO of Abbott Laboratories read a N.Y. Times article about the plight of the statue and contacted us. After a few conversations, we were awarded the final 25,000! This statue was and still is, I believe, the only statue in the U.S Capitol paid totally by private funds.

Following consistent lobbying, meetings with Congressional members and key staff, and continuing letters pouring in to Congress, the House unanimous resolution was approved by House leadership and passed! The statue was moved on Mother’s Day weekend May 11, 1997.

The rededication ceremony was held on June 26, 1997 to a capacity crowd with participation from U.S. Senate and House distinguished members, Lynn Sherr, ABC journalist, statue campaign co-chairs, and actors depicting Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass. It was a historic and memorable occasion. Our foremothers are now with our forefathers in this hallowed space in our nation’s capitol!

For more information, contact Joan Meacham, Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail Executive Director, former President, National 75th Woman Suffrage Anniversary Task Force and Co-Chair Suffrage Statue Campaign at or call @ 480-471-7792


Washington Women in Trades Honor Rosies

Founded in 1978, Washington Women in Trades and was originally created to provide support for women working at non-traditional careers in trades such as carpentry, welding or painting. This was a time when the presence of women on construction sites was rare. Like their foremothers, the Rosie the Riveters, they were doing groundbreaking work, and there were few support systems in place to ease their way. When a group of tradeswomen recognized this need, they created WWIT.

The group well understood that the public, as well as educators, needed to be informed about the high wage career opportunities available in the trades; it was necessary to enlighten our communities about the training available to ensure better jobs for women, complete with better earnings, and a better living in their daily lives. So, as things evolved, this loose volunteer association eventually went on to produce an annual spring-time job fair where women of all ages and ethnicities could learn about, and be inspired by the high paying, life sustaining careers available in non-traditional skilled trades.

Today, the Annual Women in Trades Job Fair takes place at Seattle Center in the spring. It hosts more than 80 exhibitors (limited only by the size of the exhibition hall) representing union/non-union apprenticeship programs, vocational schools and governmental agencies. Each of our exhibitors attends because of a strong commitment to placing women in the workplace. The purpose of the Job Fair is two-fold: First, it’s education. Scores of high school and middle school students attend, along with their school counselors and some parents, too. They learn about career opportunities and enjoy the many hands on and interactive projects offered by exhibitors. Workshops are sometimes offered to assist attendees with education and/or assist with job search, or offer information about site safety and first aid. Second, we connect work ready women with jobs. Often, exhibitors/recruiters bring with them job applications and conduct tests and interviews. Many attendees have been hired “on-the-spot”.
A large part of the WWIT mission is to celebrate and honor the working woman. To achieve that goal, we host an annual awards ceremony. Categories include Tradeswoman of the Year, Apprentice of the Year, and Instructor of the Year. This is integral to the philosophy of WWIT, to recognize accomplishments among our peers and associates. The WWIT Awards are part of an annual fall banquet.

In addition to our annual job fair, WWIT also is involved year-round in outreach throughout the Puget Sound. Most of these are educational forums at area high schools. In the recent past, WWIT has also participated in events such as the Northwest Women’s Show and other promotional events.

Finally, WWIT is also active, in a very special way, with local WWII Rosie the Riveters. Most of these women are octogenarians who carry with them an incredible wisdom. Whether it be stories of working in non-traditional jobs during the war or simply their life stories, their input is of tantamount value. In 2002, WWIT launched a “Calling ALL Rosie” campaign and celebration. The collaboration brought together more than 100 Rosies and was featured on ABC national news with Peter Jennings, as well as Nick Clooney’s syndicated news show. This event highlighted the importance of their contribution to the war effort, but more importantly, their contribution toward paving the way for today’s and tomorrow’s tradeswoman. We are committed to preserving this legacy and do that in part by presenting a “Rosie Table” at every Spring Job Fair where present and future trades women can chat, connect and learn from our tradeswoman past.

While paving the way for putting women to work in high skilled, high wage non-traditional construction trades, we are helping to create a diverse workplace and salary equity. The level of self-esteem that results from a successfully completed apprenticeship or a stairway perfectly welded empowers, not only the woman directly involved, but also her peers, family and community.

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