March allows appreciation of women’s contributions

Although the impact women have had on history has often been overlooked by historians, the month of March offers an opportunity to consider the contributions women have made to contemporary civilization. Since Congress declared March International Women’s History Month in 1987, history books have given more exposure to the significance women have had in affecting political and social upheaval. Although some gender stereotypes still exist today, many young women have found the strength to pursue unconventional ambitions by learning about the women of the past — such as Eleanor Roosevelt — who expanded their gender’s social and political freedom. Such is the value of history: Only by understanding and considering it are we able to free ourselves from its mistakes and appreciate its true heroes.
However, what we celebrate now as a month of recognition began as a simple protest on Feb. 23, 1909, when a group of women protested for suffrage and a 10-hour work day. They called the date International Women’s Day. Despite the subjugation of women, many realized that they could influence leaders and affect social and political change through charitable and volunteer organizations. In fact, it was this inherent welfare and social concern of the women’s movement that helped it catch fire in Russia during its Civil War in 1917. Five years later, Vladimir Lenin became the first national leader to officially recognize International Women’s Day as a holiday. The United States did not acknowledge International Women’s Day until 1978, reserving March 8 for it on the national calendar.
Despite the sluggish pace of recognizing women’s contributions in the United States, women have made important accomplishments since being granted the right to vote only 80 years ago. The 1970s proved an especially strong decade for the women’s movement at the University, when Sara Evans was hired as its first full-time women’s history professor in 1976. Today, more than a dozen history professors teach at least one class that is specifically about roles of women in history.
“If you want to make a difference in the world, you have to have a history,” Evans said in reference to the month’s importance. However, because women have often been ignored throughout history, it is difficult to accurately identify all of their contributions. But as research institutions like the University continue to discover the importance women have had in historical events, young people can better refute the attempts of our culture to illustrate the world through its traditionally patriarchal perspective.
Unlike other more commercialized holidays on America’s calendars, International Women’s Day and its corresponding month offer only a message poignant with meaning to American society. Without the significant sacrifices and persistent struggles women have offered throughout history on behalf of their gender, female students would find their lives much different, void of many freedoms they often take for granted. March ought to offer everyone an opportunity to re-evaluate women’s history and their own personal histories so that we might better realize present errors and build a more enlightened future.