Celebrating Women's History

In 1979, a small, agriculturally vibrant county of America’s Golden State took the first step in cultivating awareness for women’s countless contributions to history, culture and society.  Spearheaded by the school district of Sonoma, Calif., their week-long celebration of femininity pervaded communities, schools and organizations across the country.  Two years later, in 1981, the United States Congress passed a resolution officially inaugurating Women’s History Week.

Though given birth to in a small region, the Californian County’s event blossomed nationwide for six more years, until it was expanded in 1987 to encompass the entire month of March, turning into the celebration as it is known today: Women’s History Month.

In many instances, the history books seem to be commanded by the heroics of men.  Oftentimes, the accomplishments and societal contributions of women are slashed down to a few short sentences or given brief captions under images, eclipsed by men’s ancient and modern conquests or political maneuvers.  This is where Women’s History Month delivers the recognition to women they rightfully deserve.

President of Allegheny College Young Feminists (ACYF) Melissa Porter, 10, knows this month is monumental to women.

“Though everyone may think in terms of feminism, Women’s History Month is one of those times where people take a more active feminist role,” Porter said. “Passiveness is replaced by progression.”

March brings justice to the pivotal accomplishments of women by expanding the sawed-off sentences in the history books and extracting the 1000 words veiled behind the images that chronicle women’s momentous societal contributions.

In 2010, the theme for the month-long commemoration of the annual event is, “Writing Women Back into History.”

Certainly both sexes have had many innovative breakthroughs, but perhaps not enough attention has been given to prolific-minded females.  Mary Anderson, for example, invented windshield wipers in 1903.  Josephine Garis Cochran rendered the washboard obsolete with her invention of the first practical dishwasher in 1886.  Stephanie Kwolek, a Pittsburgh native, is credited for her ground-breaking and life-saving work in polymer chemistry with the invention of Kevlar.

Vice President of ACYF Kate Creehan, ’11, acknowledges the importance of recognizing females who have made a difference.

“Because women’s experience is often times marginalized,” Creehan said, “It is refreshing this time of the year to see our nation focus on the contributions women have made to its history.”

In 1849 and 1869 a pair of women took great leaps in collegiate study, achieving two of the most prestigious and revered triumphs in higher education.  Elizabeth Blackwell received her M.D. degree in 1849, becoming the first woman in the U.S. with a medical degree, and in 1869, Arabella Mansfield was granted certification to practice law in Iowa, making her the first female lawyer.

It’s not necessary to look too far back to see women’s progress.  More recently, Democrat Hillary Clinton won the N.H. presidential primary and became the first woman in the U.S. to win a presidential primary contest.

With each passing year, women’s societal influence is surging; it’s only a matter of time before one is exalted as Mrs. President.

Closer to home, Allegheny College is no stranger to supporting women.  There are a few exceptionally notable alumnae, but among countless other distinguished female graduates, Ida M. Tarbell is especially well-known.  She attended Allegheny College beginning in 1876, majored in biology, and graduated in 1880 as the only woman in her class.  A fiery “muckraker” of her time, Tarbell helped decommission the Standard Oil cartel with her stinging expose targeting the monopolistic practices of John D. Rockefeller.

President of Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance Katherine Bengston, ’10, explains the importance of honoring our women ancestors and continuing to respect their tireless work.

“Women’s History Month is about celebrating what women have accomplished and how hard we have fought-and still are fighting-for our rights,” Bengston said, “It’s about showing respect for the women who came before us and remembering why we need to keep advocating for equality.”