'That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach' — Aldous Huxley
History helps us understand how events in the past made things the way they are today. History helps us learn who we are and can even shape our future. These are facts that were completely lost on me as I memorized names and dates in high school and retained that information just long enough to regurgitate it for a final. History did not interest me IN THE LEAST. Give me science. Give me math. Do not give me another dang date to remember.
Yet when we don’t know our own history, our power and dreams are immediately diminished. History tells a whole story. For girls, knowing women’s achievements expands their sense of what is possible. For all of us, knowledge of women’s strengths and contributions builds respect and nourishes self esteem. As one who did not necessarily hold an ‘interest’ in history, I was not one to seek out that knowledge. I relied on what was presented in the assigned school text. It wasn’t until 1973 that author and journalist Janice Trecker started the conversation regarding the lack of female representation in those texts in her article “Women in US History High School Textbooks.” Trecker noted that women were largely excluded from textbooks because of the emphasis on political, diplomatic, and military history which were fields that women were historically not allowed to participate in. However there were other fields such as reform, abolition, and labor with strong female contributions which were often minimized simply because of the textbook authors’ presentation from a male point of view. She states that authors “tend to depict women in a passive role and to stress that their lives are determined by economic and political trends.”
This article sparked the movement by the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission to establish a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. Dozens of schools planned special programs and over 100 women in the community participated by doing classroom presentations. The culmination of the week was a parade and program in downtown Santa Rosa, California. Word of the success of this event gained traction across the nation and other organizations and school districts initiated similar celebrations. In 1980, President Carter declared the week of March 8th as National Women’s History week. This continued to gain traction and spark important conversations as states developed and distributed educational materials for their public schools. In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month.
As I have aged and matured (more or less) I realize the importance of learning the legacy of how others have shaped our society. I am a female entrepreneur raising a strong independent daughter. I want her to see all the accomplishments of other strong independent women before her and be inspired by it. Everyone needs role models and footsteps to guide them.
Recognizing the achievements of women in all facets of life – science, community, government, literature, art, sports, medicine – has a huge impact on the development of self-respect and new opportunities for girls and young women. I want my daughter to know that whatever her aspirations may be, she can do it all…even if it is something no one has done before.
To quote the National Women’s History Alliance: We draw strength and inspiration from those who came before us – and those remarkable women working among us today. They are part of our story, and a truly balanced and inclusive history recognizes how important women have always been in American society.