The Beginning of Women’s History Month
Women’s History Month began as Women’s History Week during which notable women in history were recognized and celebrated. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation that designated Women’s History Week as the week of March 8.
“From the first settlers who came to our shore, 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.” – President Jimmy Carter
In 1987, Congress changed Women’s History Week to Women’s History Month and appointed March as the time to recognize and celebrate women and their achievements. In the beginning, organizations, schools, and government institutions looked to women in the past that made significant contributions to history. Now, we celebrate women who made a difference in the past and who are making a difference today.
Recognizing Visionary Women
Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance selects and publishes a theme for Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence,” which honors “women who have led efforts to end war, violence, and injustice and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society.”
In honor of this year’s theme, we want to recognize seven women during Women’s History Month that have worked or are working for peace, equality, and justice around the world.
Jane Addams was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her social work and pacifism in serving the poor in urban Chicago. In 1889, Addams started Hull House, a settlement house for women immigrants that included services such as kindergarten, daycare, English and citizenship classes, and social clubs and activities. Hull House also provided resources through their employment bureau and libraries. By 1911, Chicago had 35 settlement houses.
Addams also spent her time influencing public policy as an advocate for world peace and as leader of the Women’s Peace Party in 1915.
Mary Burnett Talbert
Mary Burnett Talbert was one of the founders of the Niagara Movement in 1905 and of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Talbert devoted her life to activism and fought for civil rights, women’s rights, the protection of African-American children, and the teaching of African-American history. She traveled the world challenging stereotypes and European and American racism.
Talbert’s writings are a part of the literature of African-American history and include her interview of Harriet Tubman. She wanted her writings to help African-American youth understand the importance of fighting for human rights and dignity.
At the age of 12, Mother Teresa felt a strong calling to help the poor. At 18 years, she left home to join the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns who did mission work in India. When Mother Teresa arrived in India, she began working as a teacher at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta.
It did not take long for Mother Teresa to see the widespread poverty and suffering outside of the convent walls, which deeply affected her. So, she started The Missionaries of Charity, a religious organization devoted to serving the poorest of the poor. In 1979, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work helping the poor and the vulnerable around the world.
Patsy Takemoto Mink
As a member of the House of Representatives, Patsy Takemoto Mink was the first woman of color elected to Congress and the first Asian-American congresswoman. Mink paved the way for women in politics and was a strong advocate for women’s rights, education, civil rights, and social welfare.
Throughout her political career, Mink fought for equal opportunities for women. Some of Mink’s greatest legislative achievements were the passage of Title IX and of the Women’s Education Equity Act in 1974, which promoted gender equity in schools and created more educational and job opportunities for women.
Mink also introduced and sponsored education acts that established bilingual and special education programs. She was an advocate for universal healthcare to ensure people from all walks of life received medical treatment.
At the age of three, Dorothy Cotton lost her mother. Her father, a factory worker, raised her and her three sisters. She worked as a housekeeper while going to college. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and Library Science and with a master’s degree in Speech Therapy.
In the 1960s, she became active in the civil rights movement. During this time, she served as the education director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was also the only female member of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s executive staff. She led the Citizenship Education Program, which educated people about the importance of political participation, voter registration, and nonviolent protests. She also led nonviolent protests in the segregated South.
After Dr. King’s assassination, Dorothy worked with Coretta Scott King to start the nonprofit King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Deborah D. Tucker
As a young adult, Deborah Tucker volunteered at the Rape Crisis Center in Austin, Texas. Her experience at the center led to a lifelong pursuit of helping victims of domestic violence. She has founded several organizations and advocated for improvements to public policies and practices in our country and around the world.
Tucker co-chaired the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence. As the founding chair of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, she helped write the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. She also founded one of the first shelters for families affected by domestic violence and established the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Born in Baghdad, Iraqi-American Author and Humanitarian Zainab Salbi and her family experienced psychological abuse at the hands of Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein. At the age of 19, Salbi’s father arranged a marriage for his daughter with an Iraqi-American man to help her escape the abuse in Iraq. Unfortunately, she suffered abuse at the hands of her husband. After three months, she gathered the courage to leave her marriage.
Based on what she experienced and witnessed as a child and teen, Salbi has spoken and written extensively about the use of rape and other forms of violence against women during war. At 23 years old, Salbi founded Women for Women International, a humanitarian organization dedicated to serving women survivors of wars. It provides tools, resources, and training to allow women to move from crisis and poverty to economic self-sufficiency and stability.
Celebrate Women’s History Month with Us
Celebrate Women’s History Month this month by sharing these women’s stories with your friends and family. Their stories remind us that we can make a difference in our world by being an advocate for peace, justice, and equality.
Throughout the month of March, we will share stories to celebrate these women on Facebook. Share their stories on social media to inspire people to love others and to be a voice to the powerless and most vulnerable in our world.