Why Women’s History Month Is Still Relevant

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Women's History Month reception in the East Room of the White House on 18 March 2013.

Since the United States of America was founded, women have made courageous and positive contributions to the national landscape.

2010 marks the 30th year that the United States of America has celebrated achievements made by its women citizens. It began on March 8, 1980 after President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. Seven years later in 1987, the celebration was extended and made National Women’s History Month.

The first Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and about 300 other men and women led the charge. Seventy-two years would pass before women were given legal rights in the United States. That happened when the 19th Amendment was signed in law in 1920. Before and since that time women have made heroic strides forward, efforts that benefit countless other people across cultures, genders, nationalities and ages.

Great Women Achievers Throughout History

As noted at the Women Hall of Fame, Shirley Ann Jackson is a physicist who headed up the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Shirley is only one of two African American women to earn a doctorate in physics. She is also the first African American women to receive a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Electrons on liquid helium films, education and gender and racial equality in the sciences are areas that Shirley focused on and made great strides in.

Born in 1832, Mary Walker was the first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree. She volunteered during the Civil War after she was denied a salary for serving in the United States Army. Her resilience eventually found her serving as the assistant surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry. She worked tirelessly to achieve equal rights for all Americans, regardless of gender. Arrests, lack of pay and refusal to honor her military efforts failed to deter Mary Walker. In 1977, the Army Board restored her Medal of Honor in recognition of her valiant military service.

Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias was a stellar athlete. Born on June 26, 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas, Mildred, her siblings and their Norwegian parents lived in poverty in South Texas. Sports for Mildred started in high school when she began to play basketball. Despite efforts to remove intramural sports for girls from public schools, Mildred continued to practice, stay in shape and compete. After high school, Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias started to compete in track and field. It would be the sport that she would first become famous for competing and winning in.

She won two gold and one silver medal in the 1932 Olympics. Following the 1932 Olympics, Mildred turned her attention to golf. The Los Angeles Open, United States Women’s Amateur Golf Championships and the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship are golf events that Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias competed in or won.

Asian American Women Who Helped Change America

Born December 12, 1904, Katherine Sui Fun Cheung is the first Asian American woman pilot. Born in Canton, China, Katherine left her home country when she was a teenager and relocated to Los Angeles, California. According to Encyclopedia, Katherine earned her pilot’s license in 1932. An only child, her early interest were in music. She studied at the University of Southern California (USC) and California State Polytechnic University. In 1926, Katherine became a member of Amelia Earhart’s International Ninety Nines Club, an organization that joined women pilots together for the advancement of the field and their individual careers.

Parents, teachers, students, community and business leaders can find more information, including books and articles on these and other courageous women from their local library. Reference librarians are great resources to contact to locate great writings on or about women achievers. Additionally, booksellers like Amazon.com, Cushcity.com, Borders, Barnes and Noble and Waldenbooks carry books on women who have earned their way into history. Finally, the National Women’s History Project and the National Women’s Hall of Fame provide short biographies, news, legacies and specific honors and awards on courageous women.