As recently as the 1970's, women's history was virtually an unknown topic in the K-12 curriculum or in general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a "Women's History Week" celebration for 1978. We chose the week of March 8 to make International Women's Day the focal point of the observance. The activities that were held met with enthusiastic response, and within a few years dozens of schools planned special programs for Women's History Week, over one-hundred community women participated in the Community Resource Women Project, an annual "Real Woman" Essay Contest drew hundreds of entries, and we were staging a marvelous annual parade and program in downtown Santa Rosa, California.
In 1979, a member of our groups was invited to participate in Women's History Institutes at Sarah Lawrence College, attended by the national leaders of organizations for women and girls. When they learned about our county-wide Women's History Week celebration, they decided to initiate similar celebrations within their own organizations and school districts. They also agreed to support our efforts to secure a Congressional Resolution declaring a "National Women's History Week." Together we succeeded! In 1981, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution.
As word spread rapidly across the nation, state departments of education encouraged celebrations of National Women's History Week as an effective means to achieving equity goals within classrooms. Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, Alaska, and other states developed and distributed curriculum materials all of their public schools. Organizations sponsored essay contests and other special programs in their local areas. Within a few years, thousands of schools and communities were celebrating National Women's History Week, supported and encouraged by resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards, and the U.S. Congress.
The Entire Month of March
In 1987, the National Women's History Project petitioned Congress to expand the national celebration to the entire month of March. Since then, the National Women's History Month Resolution has been approved with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Each year, programs and activities in schools, workplaces, and communities have become more extensive as information and program ideas have been developed and shared.
Growing Interest in Women's History
The popularity of women's history celebrations has sparked a new interest in uncovering women's forgotten heritage. A President's Commission on the Celebration of Women in History in America recently sponsored hearings in many sections of the country. It took reports about effective activities and institutions that are promoting women's history awareness and heard recommendations for programs still needed. The Women's Progress Commission will soon begin hearings to ascertain appropriate methods for identifying and then preserving sites of importance to American women's history. In many areas, state historical societies, women's organizations, and groups such as the Girl Scout of the USA have worked together to develop joint programs. Under the guidance of the National Women's History Project, educators, workplace program planners, parents and community organizations in thousands of American communities have turned National Women's History Month into a major focal celebration, and a springboard for celebrating women's history all year 'round.
Expanding the Focus
The National Women's History Project is involved in many efforts to promote multicultural women's history. We produce organizing guides, curriculum units, posters and display sets, videos, and a range of delightful celebration supplies. We also coordinate the Women's History Network, conduct teacher training conferences, and supply materials to people wherever they live through a Women's History Catalog.