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Five Friends

Over forty years years ago, five friends in Santa Rosa, California, noticed that something was very wrong. They realized that few women were featured in schoolbooks. In fact, no more than 3% of the content was devoted to women! That meant that girls had few role models. It also meant that women’s achievements and contributions were not considered important enough to be included in books. And that was wrong! So, the friends—Molly Murphy MacGregor, Paula Hammett, Mary Ruthsdotter, Maria Cuevas, and Bette Morgan—decided to do something about it.

Selecting the week of March 8th to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8th, an already established worldwide event, the friends organized a week-long Women’s History event celebrating historic women’s contributions to every aspect of American life. Students wrote essays. Students and adults dressed up as a historic woman to march in a parade through downtown Santa Rosa.

The week-long events were so successful that Molly Murphy MacGregor proposed the idea at a Women’s History Institute Institute, chaired by the eminent historian Gerda Lerner, at Sarah Lawrence College in 1979. Inspired by Molly’s presentation, the group passed a resolution to create a National Women’s History Week, an idea that President Jimmy Carter made official in 1980.

That same year the five friends founded the National Women’s History Project (NWHP), as a center for multicultural women’s history. Their aim was “to teach as many people as possible about women and their critical role in American history.” Since then the NWHP has produced a vast array of materials; delivered thousands of speeches; conducted countless trainings, and maintained a website that is a treasure trove of information, resources, and links.

In 1987, the NWHP successfully petitioned the United States Congress to designate March as National Women’s History Month.

Since then, National Women’s History Month has been widely celebrated across America in offices, museums, libraries, and schools. Kids make posters, write poems, dress up like historic women and hold parades and put on plays. Women’s history exhibitions are on display at historic sites and museums. Special luncheons are held by civic organizations, businesses, and governmental agencies..The President of the United States issues a special proclamation. People leave tokens of respect at statues and graves of historic women. For 2021, because the pandemic postponed celebrations that were scheduled to mark the 2020 Centennial of the 19th Amendment, the NWHP, now known as the National Women’s History Alliance (NWHA) extended the 2020 theme—Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced. I photographed the celebatory sign on a building in Newark, NJ in March 2000.

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