Women’s History Month, like many history month celebrations, seems to feel increasingly like a balancing act between celebrating the contributions of women to all aspects of life in the United States, while also acknowledging and resisting Draconian systemic attacks on women’s health and civil rights.
This year at the University of Oregon, Interim President Jamie Moffitt made history as the first woman to serve in this position. This past November, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek was elected as only the third woman to serve in the top office in the state and one of the first two openly lesbian governors of a U.S. state, alongside Massachusetts Governor Maura Healy. When you examine the plethora of historic wins, not just from the standpoint of celebrating individual achievements but also recognizing the policy implications, you cannot discount their significance.
Individual achievements and contributions don’t exist in a vacuum and we can’t separate Women’s History Month from its roots in organizing and resistance.
Women’s History Month originated as a celebration in 1981. Originally, it was recognized as “Women’s History Week.” The National Women’s History Project petitioned to expand the observation to an entire month in 1987 following many years of Congressional resolutions. Finally, in March of 1987, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution officially recognizing Women’s History Month. Starting in 1995, U.S. presidents began taking part in formal observations, including the tradition of making annual proclamations in honor of Women’s History Month.
It’s in this spirit that we don’t just put the spotlight on solidarity and resistance, but uplift and learn from the Black, Latin, Native and Asian women who have and continue to be the vanguard for resistance movements, not just for women’s rights but freedom in general. For example, Asian American women nurses and doctors were at the vanguard of America’s fight against COVID19, even as they fight against anti-Asian racism.
This history of resistance and organizing is even more explicit when it comes to International Women’s Day, which is recognized annually on March 8 and highlights the continued fight to end gender discrimination, violence and abuse. Labor organizers and activists for women’s suffrage organized the first National Women’s Day in 1909 and within a year, it became a global celebration after a vote at the second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen. The ballot box is an important mechanism in which women are resisting and making history. For example, Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk Nation) and Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) (NM-1st District) were the first Native American women to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (KS-3rd District and NM-1st District, respectively). The U.S. is filled with history of Black women leading slave revolts, such as the 1708 revolt in what is now Queens, New York, documented in Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, a graphic novel by historian Rebecca Hall. While little is known of Sylvia Mendez, who fought as a child in 1946 to desegregate California schools, her sacrifices were important not only for Mexican Americans, but for excellence of American education in general. Her fight is documented in: Mendez, et al vs. Westminster School District of Orange County, et al.
During Women’s History Month and all throughout the year, we have an obligation to share these largely untold stories to educate and inspire and move society to organize for justice. The UO has a wide selection of activities and programming for this year’s observation and we invite you to join us in celebrating Women’s History Month 2023!