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Women's History

Women's History


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Women’s History Month is an annual celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society. Women’s history in the United States has been full of trailblazers and pioneers: Women who fought for their rights, worked hard to be treated equally and made great strides in fields like science, politics, sports, literature and art.

History Shorts: Medal of Honor

Mary Edwards Walker was the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor, but her fight for recognition extended well beyond the war.

How World War I Helped Women Ditch the Corset

Massive cultural shifts during and after World War I helped free women from confining roles—and the confining corsets that bound them to the previous age. The evolution of the bra re-shaped the image of what a woman could be, whether she was serving in the war effort, fighting ...read more

11 Bold Women Who Changed the World

WATCH: 11 Underappreciated World-Changing Women 1. Sybil Ludington: The Female Paul Revere On the night of April 26, 1777, 16-year-old Sybil Ludington rode nearly 40 miles to warn some 400 militiamen that the British troops were coming. Much like the ride of Paul Revere, ...read more

How the Mirabal Sisters Helped Topple a Dictator

On November 25, 1960, three sisters—Patria, Minerva and María Teresa Mirabal—were reported killed in an “automobile accident.” Reports said a car they were riding in plunged over a cliff in the Dominican Republic. At least, that was the story in El Caribe, a newspaper sanctioned ...read more

Women in WWII Took on These Dangerous Military Jobs

Women served on both sides of World War II, in official military roles that came closer to combat than ever before. The Soviet Union, in particular, mobilized its women: Upward of 800,000 would enlist in the Red Army during the war, with more than half of these serving in ...read more

9 Groundbreaking Inventions by Women

Female inventors have played a large role in U.S. history, but haven’t always received credit for their work. Besides the fact that their contributions have sometimes been downplayed over overlooked, women—particularly women of color—have historically had fewer resources to apply ...read more

Black Women Who Have Run for President

When Kamala Harris entered the 2020 U.S. presidential race, she chose campaign materials with a sleek typeface and red-and-yellow color scheme that mirrored those of the late politician Shirley Chisholm, who made history in 1972 after becoming the first Black woman to compete for ...read more

Shirley Chisholm: Facts About Her Trailblazing Career

Shirley Chisholm is widely known for her history-making turn in 1972 when she became the first African American from a major political party to run for president and the first Democratic woman of any race to do so. But Chisholm’s presidential bid was far from Chisholm's only ...read more


WHO IT HONORS

Among the notable figures often spotlighted during Women’s History Month are Sacagawea, a Native American woman who helped make Lewis and Clark’s expedition to map parts of the West in the early 19th century a success Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who fought for equality for women in the mid-19th century, more than 70 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in the United States in 1920 Harriet Tubman, a spy who led slaves to freedom during the Civil War Amelia Earhart, one of the world’s first female pilots (she mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937) Madeleine Albright, who became the first female Secretary of State in 1996 and Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be named a principal dancer—the highest level—in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre in 2015.


Journal of Women's History

Journal of Jewish Identities Bulletin of the History of Medicine Feminist Formations Reviews in American History Journal of the History of Philosophy American Jewish History American Jewish History Tang Studies Late Imperial China American Quarterly Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History Classical World: A Quarterly Journal on Antiquity Journal of Asian American Studies Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, & Theory Journal of Late Antiquity New Literary History Reviews in American History Twentieth-Century China Studies in the Novel American Quarterly Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas

Illustrated Timeline Presents Women’s Fashion Every Year from 1784-1970

As a versatile art form, fashion illustration is intended to showcase the material, colors, and design of clothing. In addition to acting as a study of style, these drawings also inadvertently offer a glimpse into the history of fashion design and social pop culture of the time, as evident in this collection of delicate and detailed illustrations.

Meticulously compiled using a number of historic fashion plates, this timeline showcases the many shifts in styles that occurred in women's fashion over the course of nearly 200 years. The chronological presentation begins in the year 1784, when frilly, floor-length hoop skirts were all the rage. It then meanders through the next several decades, depicting a gradual tendency toward slimmer silhouettes in the early 1800s, a preference for over-the-top headdresses in the 1830s, and the re-emergence of the fuller ballgown in the 1860s.

By the 20th century, however, a-lines were in again, until loose-fitting, knee-length frocks stole the show in the 1920s. For the next 50 years, styles remained relatively short and slim&mdashuntil 1970, when pants finally make their much-anticipated, grand debut.

The timeline ends here, perhaps because high-fashion photography proved such sketches to be obsolete. While fashion illustrations may not be as widely created or used today, some contemporary artists continue to keep the craft alive with their dazzling designs and dedication to documenting today's styles.


This Is How March Became Women's History Month

M any things have come to womankind surprisingly recently: The right to vote. The right to own property. And, perhaps less surprisingly, the existence of Women’s History Month.

Before women had the whole month, the U.S. recognized Women’s History Week before that, a single International Women’s Day. Dedicating the whole month of March in honor of women’s achievements may seem irrelevant today. But at the time of the conception of Women’s History Week, activists saw the designation as a way to revise a written and social American history that had largely ignored women’s contributions.

The celebratory month has its roots in the socialist and labor movements &mdash the first Women’s Day took place on Feb. 28, 1909, in New York City, as a national observance organized by the Socialist Party. It honored the one-year anniversary of the garment worker’s strikes in New York that had taken place a year earlier, when thousands of women marched for economic rights through lower Manhattan to Union Square. (That strike in turn honored an earlier 1857 march, when garment workers rallied for equal rights and a 10-hour day.) Within two years, Women’s Day had grown into an international observance that spread through Europe on the heels of socialism.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., feminist activists took issue with how the history books largely left out the story or contributions of women in America. In light of that imbalance, one group during the 1970s set about revising the school curriculum in Sonoma County, Calif., according to the National Women’s History Project. Their idea was to create a “Women’s History Week” in 1978, timed around International Women’s Day, which the U.N. had begun officially marking in 1975.

The observance spread to schools around the county, and grew into a cause for celebration. Organizers held an annual “Real Women” essay contest, hundreds of women took part by giving presentations to students in their classrooms and the whole week culminated in a Santa Rosa, Calif. parade.

In 1979, Molly Murphy MacGregor, one of the week’s organizers, traveled to Sarah Lawrence College in New York for a conference with the Women’s History Institute. The participants heard about the week in Sonoma County, and the celebration soon spread across the country.

Gerda Lerner chaired the Institute at the time of the conference, and backed the movement to garner national recognition. As the week picked up steam, organizers lobbied Congress and President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the first national Women’s History Week for March 2-8, 1980.

“Women&rsquos history is women&rsquos right&mdashan essential, indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long range vision,” Lerner was quoted saying in Carter’s proclamation.

President Ronald Reagan passed further proclamations announcing Women’s History Weeks, but by then some areas had already extended their celebrations for a month. The Women’s National History Project lobbied for a longer observation, and Congress passed a proclamation in 1987 establishing Women’s History Month.

Now, Presidents pass annual proclamations announcing Women’s History Month, and the National Women’s History Project declares a theme each year. The 2018 theme is “Nevertheless, She Persisted.”


Because of Her Story

In America’s most defining moments—times that shaped constitutional rights, yielded scientific breakthroughs, created the symbols of our nation—a diversity of women’s stories has not been widely told. To create a more equitable and just American society, the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative (AWHI) will create, educate, disseminate, and amplify the historical record of the accomplishments of American women. The Smithsonian wants the role of women in American history to be well-known, accurate, acknowledged, and empowering.

With a digital-first mission and focus, the initiative uses technology to amplify a diversity of women’s voices—not in one gallery or museum, but throughout the Smithsonian’s many museums, research centers, cultural heritage affiliates, and wherever people are online—reaching millions of people in Washington, D.C., across the nation, and around the world.

We invite you to join us by exploring untold stories with our American Women’s History Initiative. #BecauseOfHerStory

The Smithsonian launched the American Women’s History Initiative—Because Of Her Story—in 2018. The initiative is one of the country’s most ambitious undertakings to research, collect, document, display, and share the compelling story of women. It is inclusive, highlighting the stories of those who identify as women and those who were designated female but self-identify differently.

On December 27, 2020, Congress enacted legislation to create the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, dedicated to the contributions women have made throughout U.S. history. Planning is currently underway for the new museum. The Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative will continue to work independently while the museum is being established.

For more than 170 years, the Smithsonian has been recognized around the world for its scholarship and collections, which are made up of national treasures and artifacts held in trust for the American people. Millions of visitors from all walks of life are drawn to our museums, free and open 364 days a year. They come to see themselves reflected in America’s diverse story and to understand their place in the world.

The curators and educators hired through the American Women’s History Initiative will fill the gaps in our national narrative, shedding light on untold women’s stories.

The American Women’s History Initiative is funded through a public-private partnership with Congress, the American people and private donors, corporations and foundations.

We are grateful to the following leadership donors who have contributed to the initiative as of April 20, 2020:

19th Amendment Society
Mary and David Boies
The Case Foundation
Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation
Ford Foundation
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
David M. Rubenstein
Elaine P. Wynn & Family Foundation

Lead Donors
Acton Family Giving
The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation
Craig Newmark Philanthropies

Major Sponsors
Booz Allen Hamilton
The Coca-Cola Foundation

First Century Leaders
Melissa and Trevor Fetter
Sakurako, Remy, Rose and Jess Fisher
Julie and Greg Flynn
Rick and Susan Goings Foundation
HISTORY/A+E Networks
Mrs. Kathleen K. Manatt and Michele A. Manatt
Sue Payne
Christine and William Ragland
Alison Wrigley Rusack Deborah Sara Santana
Smithsonian Women’s Committee


About Us

…Each one of us can make a difference, and together, we make change.

Our mission is to tell the stories of women who transformed our nation. We will do that through a growing state-of-the-art online presence and a future physical museum to educate, inspire, empower, shape the future, and provide a complete view of American history.

We envision a world where women's history inspires all people to have equal respect for everyone's experiences and accomplishments and to see there are no obstacles to achieving their dreams.

Learn about Holly Hotchner, our President & CEO, and her vision "to create a forward-thinking museum: for it to be a vibrant center that creates a community where people contribute and discover stories."

" The National Women’s History Museum’s board embodies this sentiment. Our directors provide leadership for delivering on our mission to acknowledge women’s roles in our history—in the workplace, community, and home—and ensure that we tell those stories. We are pleased to have such diverse and accomplished members who bring their valuable expertise from the worlds of government relations, communications and marketing, community engagement, nonprofit strategy, business, and scholarship and academia, and a firm commitment to ensuring we give Americans a complete view of our nation’s history. "


8 Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel laid the groundwork for Western women in science. Having been given an education by her father, she was well ahead of her time. An accomplished astronomer, she was the first woman in recorded history to discover a comet&mdashand found eight overall.

Her more famous brother, William Herschel, was given a job as King George III&rsquos personal astronomer. She followed as his assistant. By also receiving wages, she was the first woman to be recognized for scientific work.

After her brother&rsquos death, Caroline Herschel mapped out the exact placement of their discoveries. The Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Irish Academy made her the first female honorary member. Years later, she received the King of Prussia&rsquos Gold Medal of Science. [3]


3. Sylvia Rivera

Photograph of Sylvia Rivera (with Christina Hayworth and Julia Murray) by Luis Carle, 2000. Gelatin Silver Print. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution acquisition made possible through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center. © Luis Carle.

Activist Sylvia Rivera may be best known for her participation in the 1969 uprisings around the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. When police raided the bar, patrons fought back. After these uprisings, LGBTQ+ community members founded the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). Rivera campaigned with the GAA to urge New York City to end discrimination against LGBT residents. However, the GAA's leadership often rejected the role trans people, many who were people of color, played in Stonewall. Rivera worked with Marsha P. Johnson to create STAR (Street Transvestite* Action Revolutionaries). Rivera and Johnson provided a home and family for young LGBT people. Through STAR, they organized and protested around issues affecting their community in New York City.

*Bryan Miller, cataloguer at our National Museum of African American History and Culture, says, "Marsha P. Johnson never used 'transgender' to describe her gender identity, since the term was popularized after her death in 1992. In fact, she often referred to herself as a 'transvestite'—a term many today consider offensive. While some claim that Johnson would identify as transgender today as opposed to transvestite, I use the prefix 'trans' to describe Marsha, as a more inclusive nomenclature that allows for a more expansive understanding of non-binary gender identities."


10 influential women in history

In politics, philosophy and protests, women have shaped the world we live in today.

While women's history has often been ignored or even erased over the centuries, many women have made huge impacts on society through activism, art, politics and leadership. Women's History Month is a perfect occasion to discover more about the female revolutionaries, politicians and campaigners who are simply too important to be forgotten. Here are some of the most influential women in history.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

In this special edition from the makers of All About History magazine, discover the stories, accomplishments and adventures of just some of the many inspirational women who have made their mark on the world.

From Cleopatra, Mary Wollstonecraft and Florence Nightingale to Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, learn of the achievements, backgrounds, characters and little-known details that make these women even more remarkable. This new and updated 2021 edition also celebrates the amazing achievements of the United States' first female vice president, Kamala Harris.

Available now exclusively in the U.S. and Canada. Pick up a copy from your nearest Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Sam's Club and Whole Foods.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away in September 2020, the United States mourned the loss of one of its foremost champions of gender equality. Throughout her career as an attorney, judge and associate justice of the Supreme Court, Ginsburg&rsquos commitment to the principle of equal justice under the law transformed the legal landscape in the U.S. &mdash particularly for women.

Ginsburg&rsquos work began at Harvard Law School, where she was one of only nine women in a class of 500 students, according to an obituary in the New York Times. Despite finishing top of her class when she graduated as a transfer to Columbia Law School, she struggled to find employment. Eventually, in 1963, she became a law professor at Rutgers Law School, where she turned her attention to gender discrimination. She argued six cases before the Supreme Court as a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, winning five.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court, where she worked for 27 years through cancer and other illnesses. Her history of dissenting opinions on the court built her up as an icon and, as Rolling Stone wrote, earned her the moniker &ldquothe Notorious RBG.&rsquo&rdquo

Throughout her career, Ginsburg promoted causes such as financial equality for women, as noted by Forbes equality in education, as reported by Inside Higher Ed LGBTQ+ rights, per the American Bar Association civil rights for immigrants and undocumented people, as described by NBC News and rights for people with disabilities, according to the Center for Public Representation.

Harriet Tubman (1822-1913)

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery but found her freedom traveling alone via the Underground Railroad. She would go on to free around 300 enslaved people in the years that followed.

Tubman began her work on the Underground Railroad by retrieving members of her own family, including her parents, several siblings and various nieces and nephews, according to biography.com. When the Civil War began, she supported the Union, working as a spy and a nurse before leading the daring Combahee Ferry Raid, which freed more than 700 enslaved people. Later in life, she became a prominent voice in the abolitionist movement and also fought for voting rights for women, helping to shape a path from slavery and discrimination toward justice in the United States.

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

&ldquoWe are here, not because we are lawbreakers we are here in our efforts to be law-makers.&rdquo These immortal words by Emmeline Pankhurst in her autobiography ("My Own Story", Hearst's International Library Company, 1914) encapsulated the British women&rsquos suffrage movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. As the iron-willed leader of the Women's Franchise League and later the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), she fought for women&rsquos right to vote in the United Kingdom &mdash by any means. The WSPU's motto was &ldquoDeeds, not words,&rdquo and the group used vandalism, violent protest and arson as means to bring about social change.

Pankhurst believed that it was necessary to go beyond civil disobedience in support of her cause, claiming in one 1908 speech: "It is because we realize that the condition of our sex is so deplorable that it is our duty even to break the law." This resolve saw her arrested on countless occasions. She argued that unless women were given political power, the laws of the country wouldn&rsquot have an equal standard of morals.

On the year of her death, according to the BBC, British women were finally granted the right to vote from the age of 21 &mdash equal to the voting requirements for men.

Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908)

Born in the winter of 1835 during the Chinese Qing dynasty, Cixi was the daughter of a low-ranking official but received a good education and, as stated by National Geographic, could probably read and write. In 1851, she became one of the Xianfeng Emperor&rsquos concubines &mdash a great honor at the time. According to the Smithsonian, Cixi quickly surpassed her fellow concubines in the emperor's favor.

When the emperor died, Cixi&rsquos son was poised to become the new emperor. The former concubine formed alliances with some of his regents and had others killed in an 1861 coup, leaving her in control of the empire. She remained a powerful but unofficial head of Imperial China until her death in 1908.

She is considered China&rsquos last and most famous empress, as reported by the Smithsonian, and is known for shaping rebellions, policies and the court of Imperial China for more than 50 years.

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

During the 1950s, U.S. society was largely segregated between Black and white citizens, including on public transport. On Dec. 1, 1955, seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, for which she was arrested. In response, Parks mobilized the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to boycott buses and draw national attention to inhumane segregation laws in the Southern states.

After successfully challenging the law and seeing segregation ruled unconstitutional by the courts, Parks continued as a prominent voice and symbol of courage in the civil rights movement, according to CNN. Her act of defiance had ignited the movement, according to the National Women&rsquos History Museum, and her continued activist work in Detroit after the bus boycott added to her legacy in the fight against injustice and discrimination.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Despite later becoming one of the most celebrated and recognized artists of the 20th century, Frida Kahlo spent much of her early life bedridden and in agonizing pain. She contracted polio at a young age and was involved in a horrific bus accident when she was only 18 years old. However, it was during her long recovery that Kahlo found her love of art, in time developing her unique style that would become recognizable around the world.

In 1922, she was among only 35 girls to enroll in Mexico City's National Preparatory School, where she became involved in the school's political and artistic circles. Her political awakening included a passion for Mexican identity, which would greatly influence her art. In her article "Aztec Imagery in Frida Kahlo's Paintings," published in 1990 in Woman's Art Journal, historian Janice Helland explained: "As [Kahlo] sought her own roots, she also voiced concern for her country as it struggled for an independent cultural identity. Her life and even her death were political."

A tumultuous marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera, 20 years her senior, also heavily influenced her art, as did her continuing illness, which dominated the final years of her life. Despite her illness, she refused to stop working, and even attended her 1953 solo exhibition in a four-poster bed, just a year before her death.

Some argue that Kahlo shaped the world of contemporary artists of color, bringing personality and politics into self-portraiture. &ldquoThe story of Frida Kahlo is one of a brown, queer, disabled revolutionary. She reminds us that there is strength in vulnerability, and that there is spirit beyond our physical bodies,&rdquo wrote TK Smith for online arts publication ArtsATL.

Kamala Harris (1964-present)

In 2021, Kamala Harris made history when she became vice president of the United States &mdash the first woman, the first Black person and the first Asian American to hold the nation&rsquos second-highest office. The daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, Harris grew up during the 1960s civil rights era. Perhaps inspired by civil rights activist Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, whom in her memoir she names as one of her "greatest heroes&rdquo ("The Truths We Hold", Random House, 2019), Harris chose a career as a lawyer. She began as a law clerk before being elected attorney general of California in 2010.

As a lawyer, she specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases, and as California&rsquos attorney general fought for foreclosure settlements and against predatory for-profit education. According to her biography from the White House, she also championed marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act and the environment.

Harris ran for the Senate in 2016 and was the first Indian American and only the second Black woman to be elected to the Senate, according to the U.S. Senate&rsquos article on African American senators. In 2019 she ran for the Democratic Party nomination for president and, after dropping out, was picked as Joe Biden&rsquos running mate. They went on to win the election in November 2020, making Harris the highest-ranking elected female official in U.S. history.

In January 2021, according to the Associated Press, she swore her oath of office as vice president on Marshall's own personal Bible.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Maya Angelou was an actor, dancer and journalist, and is recognized as one of the most important figures in modern American literature. Due to childhood sexual abuse and trauma, Angelou became unable to speak for several years, according to the National Women&rsquos History Museum. Later, she found her voice through her writing. As an adult, she became involved in the civil rights movement and befriended both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Despite the assassinations of Malcolm X and King, in 1965 and 1968 respectively, in 1969 Angelou published her most famous work, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." The fictionalized autobiography described her experience as a young Black woman in America. The book was hailed for its revolutionary approach, beginning Angelou's career as a bestselling author of numerous books, poems and essays.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft lived the philosophical, feminist liberation she wrote about. She was disregarded by many in her day due to her extramarital affairs and her illegitimate daughter, and according to the British Library, the publication of her husband&rsquos memoirs after her death did further damage to her reputation. However, a century after her death, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, she was finally recognized for her moral and political writing and took her place beside her other daughter, Mary Shelley, in the pantheon of female literary greats.

Wollstonecraft&rsquos first book, &ldquoA Vindication of the Rights of Men&rdquo (J. Johnson, 1790), was her response to the French Revolution. In it, she refuted the concept of monarchy and called instead for a republican nation. She was also frustrated at depictions of women as passive vessels in a male-dominated world, and her second book, "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (J. Johnson, 1792), became her best-known work. The book has since become recognized as one of the most important works of the Enlightenment.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

In her work as an avant-garde writer and dedicated patron to modern artists, Gertrude Stein rebelled against the patriarchy. Stein traveled around Europe, eventually settling in Paris with her brother, Leo. The pair began collecting art, particularly works by contemporary avant-garde artists. Alongside their art collections, they cultivated relationships with Parisian bohemians at their Saturday-night salon. In time, invitations to the Stein salon became the most sought-after in Paris.

After World War I ended, the Stein salon became a popular haunt for young American expats &mdash or the &ldquoLost Generation,&rdquo as Stein called them. Stein remained a little-known figure outside of the literary and art worlds until 1933, when she published a book titled &ldquoThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas&rdquo (Harcourt, 1933). Not a true autobiography, Stein wrote in the voice of her life partner, Toklas. With the book&rsquos popularity, Stein became a name and face recognized across the globe.

According to The Poetry Foundation, &ldquoStein helped shape an artistic movement that demanded a novel form of expression and a conscious break with the past.&rdquo


Watch the video: A global history of womens rights, in 3 minutes (May 2022).