Women: from Footnotes to Headlines

National Women's History Month
Tuesday, March 9th, 2010
rosa parks
When we were kids, finding women in the history books was a tough job. Not many were there to find. Now we've had a string of female Secretaries of State, women astronauts, and two women on the ballot for Vice President of a major political party. Women are finding their way into the history books, and tracking the progress is the National Women's History Project (www.nwhp.org). This year marks the 30th anniversary of the NWHP.  In 1980, Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 National Women's History week.  In 1987, the week was expanded to a month, and March became National Women's History Month in 1987.

The NWHP has made great strides in the past 30 years.  Before 1970, the serious study of women's history was limited to one or two scholars, and there were no programs offering doctorates in women's history studies.  There's a reason we couldn't find women in our history books, in 1980, less than 3% of history found in teacher training textbooks included contributions of women, and even then were often only in the footnotes. The exceptions can probably be named on one hand - Madame Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Joan of Arc.  Nowadays, if one runs a search with women and history and month,  40 million hits show up. We've come a long way, baby.

women suffragists

Women campaigning for the right to vote in February 1913

Suffragists have been around for quite some time, but it was in the 1960's that women really began questioning the lack of content about women's roles in history in mainstream history textbooks. Scholars found that "history" usually meant political history rather than the whole of American life, including ethnicity, the media, poverty, public health and culture, particularly urban life. Women in the past were generally excluded from these exalted levels of leadership and political position, and therefore were not included in the history books.

In the 1970's, the study of history began to be reshaped to include all matters of lifestyle and culture in America. Women, having a larger role in the sociological aspects of American life - the regular routine of going about one's day - became more prominent as the history books were rewritten. Topics now covered include everything from political events to marriage, child rearing, birth control, keeping a home, and sexuality. At first, the focus was on white middle class America, but it became quickly obvious that the full racial and socio-economic spectrum needed to be addressed.

Now, with the strides being made by women in government, sciences, and the arts, women have earned their place in textbooks currently being published.

women's museum quilt

The Electronic Quilt at the Women's Museum

The Women's Museum, located at Fair Park in Dallas, Texas, is a great resource for women in history. Fabulous permanent exhibits memorialize women's achievements in business, science, technology, politics, sports, aviation, aerospace and entertainment. The current temporary exhibit celebrates women artists who boldly undertook the challenges of printmaking and the quality of their resulting success. The best news -- this month, the museum is one-year memberships for only $30. Go to www.thewomensmuseum.org for more information about the museum and the latest exhibits

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