Women’s History Month: Looking back on an important milestone in equal rights
By Lisa Mullen
March is Women’s History Month — an entire month dedicated to the celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society as a whole. This year’s theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced.” It is a continuation of the theme of last year’s celebrations of women’s history being severely curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions.
Gender equality came to the forefront on March 1, 1972, when Title IX was passed. It helped to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs, especially within school sports programs. Within three weeks of its passage, the Equal Rights Amendment was approved on March 22, 1972.
Title IX guaranteed equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex and ended the legal distinctions between men and women in matters of divorce, property and employment giving women significantly more freedoms to compete and be equal to men in many areas.
In 1978, a school district in Sonoma, Calif. began a weeklong celebration of women’s contributions to history by having students participate in a “Real Woman” essay contest seeking to highlight women who fought for equality. The idea caught on so well that by March of 1980 President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week.
As the popularity of the weeklong celebration began to rise over the years, Congress declared the entire month of March to be Women’s History Month in 1987. Accomplishments, ranging from politics to science and beyond, were celebrated giving the country time to reflect on how these women changed our country and the world. The very first Women’s History Month theme was “Generations of Courage, Compassion, and Conviction.”
Each year brings a new theme. In 2006, it was “Women, Builders of Communities and Dreams” while in 2014 it was, “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment.”
There are so many extraordinary women throughout history to celebrate, both past and present including:
• Harriet Tubman helped rescue 300 people by leading them to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
• Amelia Earhart was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
• Katharine Graham was the first female publisher of a major newspaper, The Washington Post, as well as being the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 Company.
• Former Arizona Senator Martha McSally not only served her country as a senator but was the first woman to fly in combat and command a fighter squadron.
• And Sarah Thomas was on full view during this year’s Super Bowl — she is the first full-time female referee in the NFL.
Pennsylvania has its fair share of modern history-making women too:
• Christina Aguilera (Rochester, Pa.) – Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and television personality.
• Sharon Stone (Meadville, Pa.) — Actress who became a sex symbol with her portrayal of Catherine Tramell in “Basic Instinct.”
• Taylor Swift (Reading, Pa.) — Pop singer who won 10 Grammys and was nominated for the award 31 times.
• Grace Kelly (Philadelphia, Pa.) — Actress who became Princess of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier II.
• Tina Fey (Upper Darby, Pa.) -— Actress, writer and producer who is best known for her roles on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.”
• Martha Graham (Pittsburgh) — Her style of dancing became known as the Graham technique and changed how American dance is taught worldwide.
This is the 33rd year of celebrating Women’s History Month, and as we look back on the famous women of the past as well as modern-day women who continue to fight for equality in all aspects of life from politics to boardrooms, we can reflect on what makes them great and continue to pass this knowledge onto our daughters as they strive for greatness in the future.