On February 28, 1980, President Jimmy Carter wrote:
"From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this Nation. Too often, the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed."
These words, part of his message establishing the first Women's History Week in 1980, marked the beginning of a new chapter in American history; one in which recognition of women and their work, and the promotion of their rights became a more explicit concern. That initial effort was expanded in 1987, when March was designated as Women's History Month.
The Beginning: Women's History Week
In 1978 in California, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women began a "Women's History Week" celebration. The week was chosen to coincide with International Women's Day, March 8.
The response was positive. Schools began to host their own Women's History Week programs. The next year, leaders from the California group shared their project at a Women's History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. Other participants not only determined to begin their own local Women's History Week projects, but agreed to support an effort to have Congress declare a national Women's History Week.
Three years later, the United States Congress passed a resolution establishing National Women's History Week, which had ample bipartisan support.
This recognition encouraged even wider participation in Women's History Week. Schools focused on special projects and exhibitions honoring women. Organizations sponsored talks on women's history. The National Women's History Project began distributing materials specifically designed to support Women's History Week, as well as materials to enhance the teaching of history through the year, to include notable women and women's experience.
Women's History Month
In 1987, at the request of the National Women's History Project, Congress expanded the week to a month, and the U.S. Congress has issued a resolution every year since then, with wide support, for Women's History Month. The U.S. President has issued each year a proclamation of Women's History Month.
To further extend the inclusion of women's history in the history curriculum (and in everyday consciousness of history), the President's Commission on the Celebration of Women in History in America met through the 1990s. One result has been the effort towards establishing a National Museum of Women's History for the Washington, D.C., area, where it would join other museums such as the American History Museum.
The purpose of Women's History Month is to increase consciousness and knowledge of women's history: to take one month of the year to remember the contributions of notable and ordinary women, in hopes that the day will soon come when it's impossible to teach or learn history without remembering these contributions.
- National Women's History Week Statement by the President. February 28, 1980.