We are coming to the end of March, a month that since 1978 has come to be marked as Women’s History Month. The first “Women’s History Week” celebration in the US was organized in 1978 by the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women in Santa Rosa, California. It was selected to correspond with International Women’s Day. The next year, the movement to mark Women’s History Week spread to communities nationwide.
President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th, 1980, as National Women’s History Week. Seven years later, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, to designate March as “Women’s History Month.” Since then, March is set aside to honor women’s contributions in American history.
Which the women influenced you? I’ve had so many female teachers, colleagues, friends. It’s difficult to reflect on what I gained from each, perhaps because their lessons are so deeply embedded in my value system. Here’s just a small list, topped off of course by my mother, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Greece. She brought caring humor into our lives with a heavy portion of common sense. She gave us a love of all forms of the arts and the sensitivity to appreciate people for who they were.
Barbie, the pianist at my first six years of ballet class (I think she was not there all that time!) showed me the determination of a college student to get ahead. Miss Visnick, my seventh grade English teacher, taught me the epitome of grace. A recent college grad she never wore the same outfit twice and drove a Morgan car!
Mrs. Hanna was my parent’s former neighbor who I enjoyed visiting and spending an occasional weekend with. I thought I’d emulate her … dressing every day from hosiery to lipstick and earrings with nowhere to go. (I write this sitting in my comfy nightgown!)
Yolanda Brown, another friend of my parents, taught me the aesthetics of preparing and plating a meal – concern for ingredients as well as the colorful appearance and aesthetics of any dinner or lunch. Speaking of cooks, there are the many women with whom I spent hours documenting their cooking knowledge as they preserved the food traditions of those who preceded them.
I am sure there many other women who impacted my life. The setting aside of a month to reflect and remember, however, reminds me even more of my family’s difficulty in celebrating what we considered “Hallmark” holidays – Mother’s Day/Father’s Day. Is not every day Mother’s Day or Father’s Day? Do we not honor women every day?
My work has been marked by bringing awareness of the value of so-called others to wider audiences. My museum practice was honed in a small, grass-roots museum that focused on the history and accomplishments of immigrant/ethnic communities in one of our country’s industrial cities. While immersed in that job, I observed that in the late 70s, most history museums emphasized the lives of white businessmen in their area. Later, I had the privilege to be a catalyst to bring Native American voices into the museum context.
When I taught a Multiculturalism course to first year students in the anthropology department at the University of Tulsa, I touched on this disparity again: how the basic institutions of our nation were established by and controlled by white men. I challenged my students to find examples of achievements by Black, ethnic (including Hispanic and Native American), and female leaders. It’s there!
We are faced by a changing and contentious world at the present time. For the past two years, a deadly pandemic has swept around the globe and seems to be trying to return. One European nation invades their neighbor. Women’s bodies are being taken away from them by (male) legislators around the nation. Gay and transsexual people are once again in the focus of the same law makers. And something termed Critical Race Theory is in the spotlight to be erased from school curricula.
Does this mean we can no longer mark Black History month, Native American month, Women’s History month? Why after all these years are the facts of contributions and accomplishments of non-white being sidelined into some convenient celebratory season, once a year, instead of becoming part and parcel of all of our histories?