National Women’s History Month

The Quill Pen Pal

Prior to the early 1970s, women's history was not a field of serious study. In fact, only a few scholars would have identified themselves as women's historians, and no formal graduate or doctoral training on the subject was readily available in the United States. However, the field has undergone dramatic changes since that time. Almost every college now offers women's history courses and most major graduate programs offer graduate and doctoral degrees in the field.

Two important factors contributed to the emergence of women's history. The 1960s women's movement caused women to question their transparency in traditional or standard American history texts and journals. The movement also raised the aspirations of as well as the opportunities for women, and produced a growing number of impressive female historians.

Women's history was also part of a bigger movement that transformed the study of history in the United States. Traditionally, "history" had meant political history—a story of the key political events and of the leaders, primarily wealthy, Anglo-Saxon men, who influenced them. Though by the mid-1970s "the newer social history" began replacing the former. Emphasis then shifted to a broader expanse of American life, including such areas as the history of ethnicity, poverty, public health, urban and social life, and the media.

Since women rarely held positions of leadership and until recently had only a minor influence on politics, the new history, with its emphasis on the sociological and the ordinary, was an ideal carrier for presenting women's history. It has covered such subjects as the history of women's education, birth control, housework, marriage, sexuality and child rearing.

The public celebration of women's history in the United States actually began in California in 1978 as "Women's History Week." In 1981, Congress passed a resolution establishing National Women's History Week. This week was chosen to coincide with International Women's Day on March 8. In 1987, Congress officially expanded the week to a month. Every year since, Congress has passed a resolution for Women's History Month, and the president has issued a proclamation.

For more information on National Women's History Month, visit www.nwhp.org

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