We have all heard Virginia Woolf’s quote “Anonymous was a woman.” This quote refers to women who have disappeared when speaking their truth, history, and art throughout much of recorded history. She may not have signed her statements. Her statements may have been attributed to either a male that she was associated with or she has, over time, had her voice misattributed to a man in the popular mind. As with quotes, women’s history has long been made hidden or anonymous.
This hidden history is now being addressed and has been since the 1970’s here in the United States. As President Jimmy Carter said in 1980:
“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.
As Dr. Gerda Lerner has noted, “Women’s History is Women’s Right.” – It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision.”
Initially in the US, the federal government proclaimed the week surrounding March 8 (known around the world as International Women’s Day) as Women’s History Week. By 1986, 14 states had declared March to be Women’s History Month to have schools and communities recognize and raise up the history of women – individuals as well as movements. The following year Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. Every year since then the President of the United States creates a special proclamation once again declaring March as Women’s History Month by highlighting the achievements of American women.
We as women are no longer “Anonymous.” Our voices and our history are being added to what children and adults learn.
As part of each year’s Women’s History Month, a theme is associated with the month’s programs on women’s history. In 2016, that theme is Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government. Following this theme, leaders throughout the country, both women and men, have stepped up to the plate to highlight women’s service and history.
Here’s what President Obama said in his 2016 proclamation on February 29, 2016:
Throughout history, women have driven humanity forward on the path to a more equal and just society, contributing in innumerable ways to our character and progress as a people. In the face of discrimination and undue hardship, they have never given up on the promise of America: that with hard work and determination, nothing is out of reach. During Women’s History Month, we remember the trailblazers of the past, including the women who are not recorded in our history books, and we honor their legacies by carrying forward the valuable lessons learned from the powerful examples they set.
For too long, women were formally excluded from full participation in our society and our democracy. Because of the courage of so many bold women who dared to transcend preconceived expectations and prove they were capable of doing all that a man could do and more, advances were made, discoveries were revealed, barriers were broken, and progress triumphed. Whether serving in elected positions across America, leading groundbreaking civil rights movements, venturing into unknown frontiers, or programming revolutionary technologies, generations of women that knew their gender was no obstacle to what they could accomplish have long stirred new ideas and opened new doors, having a profound and positive impact on our Nation. Through hardship and strife and in every realm of life, women have spurred change in communities around the world, steadfastly joining together to overcome adversity and lead the charge for a fairer, more inclusive, and more progressive society.
During Women’s History Month, we honor the countless women who sacrificed and strived to ensure all people have an equal shot at pursuing the American dream. As President, the first bill I signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for working American women to effectively challenge illegal, unequal pay disparities. Additionally, my Administration proposed collecting pay data from businesses to shine a light on pay discrimination, and I signed an Executive Order to ensure the Federal Government only works with and awards contracts to businesses that follow laws that uphold fair and equal labor practices. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer charge women more for health insurance simply because of their gender. And last year, we officially opened for women the last jobs left unavailable to them in our military, because one of the best ways to ensure our Armed Forces remains the strongest in the world is to draw on the talents and skills of all Americans.
Though we have made great progress toward achieving gender equality, work remains to be done. Women still earn, on average, less for every dollar made by men, which is why I continue to call on the Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act — a sensible step to provide women with basic tools to fight pay discrimination. Meanwhile, my Administration has taken steps to support working families by fighting for paid leave for all Americans, providing women with more small business loans and opportunities, and addressing the challenges still faced by women and girls of color, who consistently face wider opportunity gaps and structural barriers — including greater discrepancies in pay. And although the majority of our Nation’s college and graduate students are women, they are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which is why we are encouraging more women and girls to pursue careers in these fields….
This month, as we reflect on the marks made by women throughout history, let us uphold the responsibility that falls on all of us — regardless of gender — and fight for equal opportunity for our daughters as well as our sons.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2016 as Women’s History Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month and to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016, with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
Similarly, in my back yard, the Centre County Commissioners today proclaimed March 2016 as Women’s History Month here is Centre County and presented the proclamation to Michele Hamilton, President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (the local chapter of the National Organization for Women).
Before we were given the proclamation, Michele talked about the history of Women’s History Month and this year’s theme. She then called upon people throughout the county to recognize local woman who have taken up public service and/or are serving our local communities in public office past and present and in the future.
Michele Hamilton, President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW presenting the history of the creation of Women’s History Month. Note that in honor of women’s history, we wore the suffragists’ emblematic colors – purple, white, and gold
I then gave a bit of women’s history – from women being hidden and anonymous to the creation of the Declaration of Sentiments in Seneca Falls in 1858, to the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the vote in the US in 1920, to the continuing activities throughout the US today to put women fully in to the US Constitution through the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
I then, like Michele, called on the public, to advocate for passage of the ERA both at the state level and at the national level. FYI, here in Pennsylvania, on May 18, 1971, we became the 4th or 5th state in the country to create a state-level ERA (Virginia also created their state ERA in 1971, but I can’t find the actual date of ratification) and we were the 21st state to ratify the federal ERA on September 27, 1972. Currently, 35 of 38 states have ratified the federal ERA.
Joanne Tosti-Vasey (l) presenting information on the history of the Equal Rights Amendment
For more information on the ERA and the two routes of activism to full ratification, go to Equal Rights Amendment: Unfinished Business for the Constitution.
Once our presentations giving voice to women’s history in the US and here in Centre County, we were presented with the “County of Centre Proclamation Number 7 of 2016:”
Women’s History Month Proclamation by Centre County PA Commissioners
Here’s the text of the proclamation:
WHEREAS, women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the gro3wth and strength of our County in countless way; and
WHEREAS, women have played and continue to play a critical economic, cultural, and social role in every sphere of the life of the County; and
WHEREAS, women have played a unique role throughout the history of the County, Pennsylvania and the United States in many ways; and
WHEREAS, women have and continue to, through their work, improve communities through or County; and
WHEREAS, women have been leaders, not only in securing their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity, but also in the abolitionist mov3ment, the emancipation movement, the industrial lavor movement, the civil rights movement, and other movements, which creat4 a more fair and just society for all; and
WHEREAS, younger generations of women from all races, classes, and ethnic backgrounds will continue to contribute to our County, Commonwealth, and Country;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED the Centre County Board of Commissioners does hereby proclaim March2016 as “Women’s History Month” and encourages the citizens of Centre County to observe with attending appropriate programs, ceremonies, activities, and to visit womenshistorymonth.gov and or local Centre County Library and Historical Museum to learn about the generations of women who have influenced or history.
ADOPTED this 22nd day of March, 2016
CENTRE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
Michael Pipe, Chair
Steven G. Dershem
Proclamation Presentation: l. to r.: Mike Pipe, Mark Higgins, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, Michele Hamilton, and Steven G. Dershem