March 2021 DEI Article
“Women Shine Extra Bright in March”
Written by Adrienne D. Berry, CP
Every March, Women’s History Month is celebrated to honor the historical contributions women have made to our society.
The celebration of women’s contributions in the U.S. started as the brainchild of the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women, who planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. The organizers selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day. The movement spread across the country as other communities initiated their own Women’s History Week celebrations the following year.
In 1980, a consortium of women’s groups and historians – led by the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women’s History Alliance) – successfully lobbied for national recognition. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week.1
The celebration of Women’s History Week was expanded into Women’s History Month through Congressional action in 1987. From that point up until now, every administration has honored the celebration. Each year a theme is established for the month. The theme for 2021 is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced.” This theme is a continuation of the centennial from 2020.2
Where should we even begin to discuss the contributions of women? I could write forever and still probably not be able to document each and every contribution women have made to our society. What I will say is, look at the women who started our organization, NALA. Look at the women who chartered many of the NALA Affiliated Associations.
The year 2020 marked 100 years of celebrating the fight women had to endure and overcome for the right to vote – a fight for a voice in the decisions that pertain to women’s rights. That fight was first noted from the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1850. The fight continued throughout the decades, including the following notable people and events:3
- Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech “Ain’t I a Woman?”
- The creation of the Women’s Suffrage Movement
- Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton forming the American Equal Rights Association in 1866
- In 1868, when the first federal women’s suffrage amendment was introduced to Congress, and in the same year, to the first 172 women who voted in a presidential election
- The ratification of the 14th Amendment, which defined citizens as “male,” but still prohibited women from being allowed to vote
- The establishment of a more radical women’s suffrage group in 1869 called the National Women’s Suffrage Association, which sought to secure the right to vote for women
- The ratification of the 15th Amendment, which gave Black males the right to vote, but still prohibited women from being allowed to vote
- Another Women’s Suffrage Amendment introduced to Congress in 1878 but not passed or ratified
- The establishment of the National Council of Women in the U.S. in 1888
- The merging of various suffrage organizations
- The adoption of women’s suffrage in each individual U.S. state
- The final ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920
In the past 100 years, we have witnessed so many contributions by women in every aspect of society, including the legal field. A notable “Thank You” list should include the following contributors:
- The first female lawyer was Arabella Mansfield, who was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1869 and made her career as a college educator and administrator.
- The first woman to run for president was Victoria C. Woodhull in the 1872 election. Ms. Woodhull was the leader of the women’s suffrage movement.
- In 1917, the first female elected to Congress was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana. Since her election, more than 300 women have followed in her footsteps.
- In 1968, Shirley Chisholm was the first Black female to be elected to Congress for New York’s 12th congressional district. She served for seven terms. Chisholm was also the first Black woman to run for U.S. President in 1972.
- Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan and served from 1981 to 2006. She was the first female appointed as an associate justice to the Court. Since her appointment, there have only been three more women appointed to the Supreme Court in 40 years.
- Geraldine Ferraro made history becoming the first woman nominated for the position of U.S. Vice President in 1984 with Walter Mondale. Since their run for the presidency, women have made a name for themselves for the leadership of our country, including Elizabeth Dole, Sarah Palin, and Hilary Clinton.
- Janet Reno served as the first female Attorney General in the U.S., nominated by President Bill Clinton, and confirmed by the Senate. She served in this position from 1993 to 2001.
- Hilary Clinton has many titles to her credit, including First Lady, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator (NY), and Democratic Presidential Nominee. Clinton ran for the office of U.S. President in 2016. Although she won the popular vote, she lost the electoral vote.
- History was made in the 2020 presidential election. After the election of 48 males in the position of U.S. Vice President, Kamala Harris, an African American woman of South Asian descent, was elected as the 49th Vice President of the United States.
- We would be remiss if we did not include Stacey Abrams and her role in the 2020 elections. Abrams – through the efforts of her two organizations, Fair Fight and the New Georgia Project – registered upward of 800,000 new voters in the lead-up to the 2020 election.4
- Last, and certainly not least, all of the women who dedicate themselves to keeping alive women’s right to vote.
There are so many women who should be included on a long list of “Thank Yous” for their contributions in securing the right to vote – a right that should not be taken lightly.
Women’s contributions should be celebrated daily, not just in March. To give extra credit to the many contributions that women have made as a whole to our country, is a given. We should look at the role of women in fighting for their voices to be heard, for the right to be treated equally, for the right to vote and make decisions regarding everyday life, and for the right to continue having a voice in an ever-changing society. This is something that should be celebrated daily, but definitely a little more in March.
“If we want our girls to benefit from the courage and wisdom of the women before them, we have to share the stories.” ~ SHIREEN DODSON