March: National Women’s History Month
National Women’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It is celebrated during March in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8.
Perhaps you didn’t realize there is a National Women’s History Month. I was aware of various days that honored certain women, but did not really know there was an entire month set aside to recognize the women who blazed a trail for us to follow! I found out by doing research on a story about Horseback Librarians. (Use your back button to return to this story)
Below are some of the things I found that gave men rights that women did not have. (
Our nation, the United States of America, began with rights for all MEN, but not necessarily for women. If you are surprised about much of the following list, you’re not alone, some of it even surprised me. Notice that after each item, there is also a link to further information about how we came to GET that particular wrong, righted!!
- Women at one time in our history could not own property in their name. Moreover, THEY were considered the property of their father, or their husband. Find out more here at this timeline about women owning property
- Women were not allowed to vote, and 50 years ago, could not even serve on a jury. To read more on this go here for the timeline of voting for women or here for being allowed to serve on a jury.
- You may be surprised to learn that women weren’t allowed to possess a credit card until the mid-1970s. You can read about that law here.
- Birth control was not available for women until 1960, but even then, only to married women. If you were a single woman, even THINKING about sex, forget about it! That too, has changed now, and you can read more about the contraception timeline here.
- As for sports, think of this: Women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon until 1972, no matter how proficient they were. Read here about the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and how she was almost prevented from doing it.
- There were no athletic shoes made for women until the 1980s when Reebok introduced a shoe for women runners. Read about the first women’s runner shoes here.
- 50 years ago, women were barred from attending co-ed universities, with two exceptions of University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University. Read here about women being allowed to attend co-ed universities.
- In 1978 the first law preventing an employer from firing a pregnant employee was passed. Read about it here.
- Until 1976, women in the military were not allowed to attend a military academy, such as West Point. Read about it here.
- Women were not allowed to fight in combat until 2013, when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta overturned that rule. Read the timeline of women in the military here.
- Until 1971, women could technically be barred from practicing law. The Supreme Court turned that one over (Reed v. Reed) and made it illegal to bar an attorney on the basis of sex. Read more here on a timeline of women lawyers.
- Married women were never allowed to say “no” to sex with their husbands until the year 1993, when marital rape was outlawed. Read here how and why marital rape was outlawed.
- For long years women were not allowed to have an abortion, no matter the circumstances of the conception, until Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Be prepared for a very long dissertation here on this one.
- Sexual harassment was not considered a legal offense until 1977. Up to then, women were at the mercy of lecherous bosses, supervisors, managers, any male in the workplace. Read here how it became illegal and who was responsible.
- The Family Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, was the first to give women time away from work to have and care for their newborn. It isn’t a perfect solution, but certainly much better than before, when a woman could be fired for becoming pregnant. (See #8 above in this list) Read more here about FMLA.
- It was 1973, when women in the military were allowed the same benefits for dependents as male military members. The United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional in the case of Frontiero v. Richardson, and ruled that women would have the same benefits for dependents as male military members, including housing, medical, commissary and post exchange.
All of the above is to point out, that women have a long road to equality, and we are still struggling with the terrain today, and though it is not totally all it should be, it IS better than before.
A personal part of this story is this; #16 relates to my own experience. I enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1968 and did very well. I loved the Army but left it in 1972 because of my three minor dependent children, who until that time were in my Mother’s guardianship. I applied for and received Recruiting Duty in our hometown so I was there for my children, but when my mother became seriously ill, I had to leave and take back the guardianship from my mother. Once I did that, I was no longer eligible for service in the military. It’s sad that the new Supreme Court ruling (in 1973) couldn’t have come earlier in my career, because I would have stayed in, but I was forced to take a discharge because of my dependents.
What Should You Do Now?
What I ask of you now, is when you look through the list above, if you find one you’re particularly interested in knowing more about, read the link given after it and ask yourself this question: How many of those changes in attitude toward women were brought about by courageous, determined women themselves? If you can recall some of those historical events, either through the years you’ve lived, or through reading about them, you will find that each of them always have one thing in common; there was always at least ONE woman, and sometimes more, who worked diligently to right the wrongs women experienced.
If you’d like to celebrate womanhood, and those wonderful women who paved the way for future generations, March is a great month to do it! But don’t limit yourself to the month of March, do it anytime. Please, whether you plan a party, a gathering, a march, or a demonstration, make it one that respects and honors the women who worked so hard to help provide us with the rights we have today. We’ve come a long way, Baby! Happy National Women’s History Month!