From the time of the Founding Fathers, the “unalienable rights and the pursuit of happiness” didn’t apply to women.
To pursue a career and work outside the home, with few exceptions, really meant men only. That’s not to say that many women didn’t find fulfillment in marriage and home, but it would take a long time before women gained the opportunity to follow their dreams in the world of professions and careers.
Abigail Adams, married to John Adams, before he became president of the United States, wrote in a letter to him: “I long to hear that you have declared independency. And by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary to make, I would desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”
As a young girl growing up in Tennessee and without role models, I knew that I would not be satisfied to stay at home or work as a maid as my mother and so many others before her. And, as I didn’t have access to books at home or school and public libraries, I was unaware of the accomplishments of women. But thank goodness, my teachers and others believed in education – even for girls.
As recently as the 1970s, there was little in history books or much known by the public about women’s history. To address this need, the Education Task Force of Sonoma County and their Commission on the Status of Women started a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978.
Essay contents, history projects and celebrations were so successful all around the country that other groups agreed to support an effort to get a congressional resolution for a Women’s History Week. Then in 1987, all of the effort paid off with Congress expanding the project for the entire month of March. The resolution passed with bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
What has happened to the good old days, you may ask?
Before the 1800s, women pioneered in education, a field related to the traditional role of a teacher in the home. As the years passed, women began to open doors for themselves and for those who followed. By the end of the 20th century, women started to distinguish themselves in professional careers such as government, politics, aviation, photography, national sports and more. But as one writer put it, “Many of these women moved through history without the recognition they deserved.”
English poet Stephen Spender once wrote: “I think continually of those who were truly great; the names of those who in their lives fought for life; who wore at their hearts the fire’s center. Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun, and left vivid air signed with their honor.” What more can one add to these beautiful lines? Others have written that all of these women possessed certain common traits: independence of spirit, sustained dedication to a cause or goal, and in most cases, immense energy and courage. I couldn’t agree more.
One historian maintained that if many of us were asked to name 10 Americans who have made contributions in one way or another to our country, most of us would give the names of men. On the other hand, if you then asked the same group to name 10 women, most would have difficulty with the task.
Let’s hope not so much anymore. There are many books written today for young and old readers alike about courageous women such as Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Mary McLeod Bethune, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bessie Coleman, Margaret Sanger and Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, to mention a few.
I’ve concentrated here on the early pioneers, but today there are so many names that come to mind. But, it’s everyone’s job to encourage girls and women to continue to dream and reach for the stars.
Each year the Solano County Office of Education passes a resolution to recognize the month of March as Women’s History Month. The resolution encourages the educational community and all people to celebrate the many ways women strengthen and enrich our communities, our country and the world.
Mayrene Bates is a trustee on the Solano County Board of Education.