The history behind history: Women’s history month

March is Women’s History Month, a whole month dedicated to celebrating the wonderful women around the world and the accomplishments women have made in social, political and economic progression. While every day should be a celebration of the strides women have made, Women’s History Month wasn’t always celebrated — it actually didn’t begin until the late 1970’s. 


Local celebration in Santa Rosa, CA — Week of March 8, 1978

Instead of a whole month, the time allotted to celebrate achievements amongst women was just a week long. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Women’s History Month started out as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, CA. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women planned the week around March 8, which is International Women’s Day. The week included an essay contest that garnered hundreds of submissions, special presentations in classrooms and a celebratory parade through Santa Rosa as a finale to the week.


Celebration spreads nationally — 1979

After the week-long celebration in California, Women’s History Week began to gain recognition, and communities across the nation began holding their own celebrations. Women’s History Week was beginning to be integrated into school curriculum, and talks began about getting federal approval for Women’s History Week.


The first presidential proclamation and continued federal support — February 1980

In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation that made the week of March 8, 1980 National Women’s History Week. Later in the year, Barbara Mikulski from the House of Representatives and Orrin Hatch from the Senate co-sponsored a Congressional Resolution to continue National Women’s History Week in 1981.


Lobbying efforts continue and curriculum is developed — 1981

Groups and communities across the country continued their efforts to celebrate and help gain recognition for National Women’s History Week. These movements were led in the majority by the National Women’s History Alliance. States such as Maryland, New York, Oregon and others started including women’s history and National Women’s History Week in public school curriculum. Congress continued their support of the movement.


Resolutions issued by Congress — Feb. 26, 1982

On Feb. 26, 1982, President Ronald Reagan issued the presidential proclamation 4903, declaring the week of March 7, 1982 as Women’s History Week at the request of Congress. Since then, Congress has issued a number of joint resolutions that made a specific week during the month of March National Women’s History Week and has requested each year that the President make a proclamation that discusses Women’s History Week and reminds the public of the important contributions women have made to society.


A week turns into a month — March 1987

After about five years of lobbying efforts and celebrations in local communities, as well as annual proclamations from the President, in 1987, Congress was petitioned by the National Women’s History project and passed Pub. L 100-9, authorizing the first ever Women’s History Month. Between 1987 and 1994 Congress passed additional resolutions that allowed the President to proclaim March as National Women’s History Month, and the month has continued to be celebrated ever since.

Photo: NYC Library

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