March 8 is International Women’s Day. Activities to celebrate this day began in 1911. The United Nations commemorated the day in 1978 and officially recognized it in 1980. That same year, President Jimmy Carter formally declared the nation’s first official National Women’s History Week beginning March 8, 1980: thus, explaining the choice of March 8 for International Women’s Day. With annual activities celebrating the achievements of women, the focus began to shift — highlighting issues of equality, opportunity, advancement and recognition of women vs men.
From a personal viewpoint, during the years of my childhood, little was said about women’s history, much less their rights. The sixties were dominated by the hippie movement and women across the nation began burning their bras — tsk, tsk — to recognize the celebrated masculinity and the virtual ignorance of contributions made by the feminine gender.
Inequality between men and women has existed through the ages. In the United States, the first woman known to have brought attention to this fact was Abigail Adams — wife and future First Lady to John Adams, Second President of the newly formed United States of America. On 31 March 1776, Ms Adams penned a letter to her husband and to the Continental Congress. In it, she asked that they “remember the ladies” as they worked to develop new laws suitable to the endeavors of a new nation under formation. She cautioned the men to “be more generous to the ladies than their ancestors had been.” Ms Adams went on to warn them of impending rebellion by ‘their ladies’ if the situation were not addressed because “the colonial women would not be bound by any laws not co-founded by them,” (Eds. history.com). Ms. Abigail Adams is not alone in addressing this cause. Many women in America have promoted women’s rights; some made history in so doing. Thus, from the outset, American women have run the gamut from imploring to demanding the American men remember their rights.
However, the new nation was busy with growth and development. For the most part, no one paid any attention to the women until Susan B Anthony was denied the right to speak at a temperance convention in 1841. She quickly added women’s rights to her alcohol and abolitionist endeavors. Anthony, a teacher raised in a Quaker household, was a staunch supporter of anti-slavery activity — through which she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The two co-founded the New York Temperance Society. Soon after, they formed the New York State Women’s Rights Committee, and Anthony served as an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. Joint efforts with Stanton eventually led her to head the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
In 1868, the two women began producing a weekly publication designed to promote women’s rights. The Revolution’s motto was “men their rights, and nothing more: women their rights, and nothing less,” (Eds, biography.com, 2019).
In a nation that prided itself upon freedom, justice and domestic tranquility, Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton shined a bright light on the inequality of men vs women by promoting women’s right to vote. Until they set about securing the passage of Amendment 19 to the United States Constitution, little thought was given to the fact that women had been denied freedom, justice and equality by being perceived as the property of husbands, fathers and brothers. The fact that women were denied the right to vote spoke volumes to women being viewed as non-persons. Other women involved in the Suffragists push for women’s right to vote were Carrie Chapman Catt, Clara Barton, Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter Annie Fitzhugh Miller to name a few. The National American Woman Suffrage Association holds a Collection of documents depicting the work of these women and many others — the size of which defies imagination. First introduced in Congress in 1878, the 19th Amendment was finally approved 4 Jun 1919, and on 26 August 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the 19th Amendment’s ratification.
The push for women’s rights calmed a bit following ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. The Roaring Twenties, the Depression Era and World War II dominated the scene. During the latter, women took charge at home while men went to fight for world freedom. Jobs traditionally held by men were now filled by women. The stay at home lifestyle gave way to the country’s economic needs, the needs of servicemen overseas and the necessity of a paycheck to fund the home, food, clothing and other family needs. Some women even joined the men in the fight for freedom around the world.
With the end of World War II, the men returned to resume earning the paychecks and the women returned to the background — keeping the home fires burning — while launching a period of prosperity and the ‘baby boom.’ As the Vietnam War spawned the above-mentioned hippie movement, the focus was on ‘make love, not war’ as the desire for a return to peace flamed across the nation. Demonstrations for peace turned violent and the need for women in the workforce returned.
A burst of feminism resulted in newfound energy directed toward passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). First written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, the original push for the ERA was proposed in 1923. Failing to pass Congress most every year until October 1971 when Representative Martha Griffiths introduced it once more, it finally passed the U.S. House of Representatives. It moved forward for Senate approval on 22 March 1972 and was submitted to State Congresses for ratification with a deadline of 22 March 1979. Thirty-eight states ratified the ERA, then four rescinded their state’s ratification. The legislatures extended the deadline to 30 June 1982 when, due to lack of additional ratifications, it was tabled.
In 1987, Congress declared March to be National Women’s History Month, and a special Presidential Proclamation issued every year highlights achievements of American Women. The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have all designated March as the month for such celebrations. In Canada, Women’s History is recognized during the month of October. As efforts continue toward “Equality of Rights under a law designed to ensure that no right shall be denied or abridged by the United States — or by any State — on account of sex,” (Carter, 1980: quoted from MacGregor, 2019), the need for our message of equality at school, at work and at play continues.
The image above by Marketa Machova from pixabay.com
Cohen, Sara E. (14 February 2020). 200 Years after Susan B Anthony’s Birth, Examining Her Role in the History of Women.s Voting Rights. Because of HER Story. Smithsonian. Washington D.C., USA. (2 March 2020). https://womenshistory.si.edu/news/2020/02/200-years-after-susan-b-anthony’s-birth-examining-her-role-history-women’s-voting.
Eds, biography.com, (16 July 2019), Susan B Anthony Biography: Editor, Civil Rights Activist, Publisher, Journalist (1820-1906). A&E Television Networks. (22 September 2019). https://www.biography.com/activist/susan-b-anthony.
Eds, First Ladies Biography. (2 March 2020). Abigail Adams. First Lady Biography. The National First Ladies’ Library. Canton, Ohio. (2 March 2020). http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=2.
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MacGregor, Molly Murphy. (2019). Why March is National Women’s History Month. National Women’s History Alliance; Santa Rosa, California. (2 March 2020). https://nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org/womens-history-month/womens-history-month-history/.
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