Top: Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jovitar Idar, Maya Angelou
Middle: Gerda Lerner, Gloria Steinem, Winona La Duke, Lillian Hellman
Bottom: Betty Soskin, Willa Cather, Gertrude Stein, Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories is the March 2023 National Women's History Month theme of the National Women's History Alliance (NWHA), formerly the National Women's History Project (NWHP) that spearheaded the establishment in 1980 of National Women's History Week and of National Women's History Month in 1987. Based in Santa Rosa, California, the NWHP was founded in 1978 by five women determined to "broadcast women's historical achievements"—Molly Murphy MacGregor, Mary Ruthsdotter, Maria Cuevas, Paula Hammett, and Bette Morgan. Second image: Their first big parade was held in Santa Rosa, California the week of March 8, 1979. (The date was selected to coordinate with International Women's Day, first officially celebrated on March 8, 1911.) Third image: In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the first Presidential Proclamation designating March as National Women's History Week. (Click on images to enlarge them.) Since then every U.S. president has issued a National Women's History Month Presidential Proclamation.
I met Molly Murphy MacGregor, in September 1992. She had come from California to lead a teacher training women's history workshop at New York University. I attended as a member of my town's school board of education. Coincidentally, my first biography of a woman—Breaking the Chains: The Crusade of Dorothea Lynde Dix— had been published in March and Spies: Women in the Civil War was due out in October. It was no surprise that we bonded, a bond that continues to this day, thirty-one years later! (Molly, the co-founder and executive director of the NWHP and the NWHA, plans to retire in 2024.) You can check out the NWHA's information-rich website: https://nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org/
Here is an excerpt from the website about the NWHA’s theme (first image) Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories: ”Throughout 2023, the NWHA will encourage recognition of women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, and more. The timely theme honors women in every community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art, pursuing truth, and reflecting the human condition decade after decade.
From the earliest storytellers through pioneering journalists, our experiences have been captured by a wide variety of artists and teachers. These include authors, songwriters, scholars, playwrights, performers, and grandmothers throughout time. Women have long been instrumental in passing on our heritage in word and in print to communicate the lessons of those who came before us. Women’s stories, and the larger human story, expand our understanding and strengthen our connections with each other."
Looking at the NWHA's graphic and scanning the names (first image), jump started a cascade of my memories, such as being spellbound reading Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memories of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976); visiting several sites
related to Willa Cather, including Red Cloud, Nebraska, and Old Burying Ground, Jaffrey, New Hampshire, where her headstone is inscribed with a quote from My Antonia—...that is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great! ; talking with Gerda Lerner at a women's history conference; and recently receiving a text with a photo of 5 roseate spoonbills from a friend who was visiting the Florida Everglades: "They flew in as the sun set. It was breath-taking . . . .The roseate spoonbill is not endangered. Yay!! It was. Thank you Marjorie Stoneman Douglas!!!"
Images: Maxine Hong Kingston, Willa Cather, Gerda Lerner, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas.