"Herstory" focus of Women's History Month program
April 1, 2011
- This year's theme for Women's History Month is, "Our History Is Our Strength."
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - Women's history has been like an underground river -- running mostly unseen and unheard.
Mary Chestnut, chief executive officer of the YWCA Greater Baltimore, used the metaphor to describe how she believes women's history has been largely ignored.
"For so very long, women's experiences, concerns, accomplishments, knowledge and striving -- women's stories -- were disappeared by a collective failure of will to remember," she said.
Chestnut spoke about the lack of recognition for women in history during her guest speech at the installation's annual observance of Women's History Month on March 24.
"The strange situation is that our experience of knowing and learning women's history will always be different from knowing the history that's already been given to us," Chestnut said. "Women's history is something we are gathering and compiling and learning now, rather than before."
The event, sponsored by the installation's Equal Opportunity Office and hosted by Army Cyber Command/2nd Army, was held at McGill Training Center. More than 200 people attended the hourlong program.
"I thought the guest speaker was very well-educated," said Staff Sgt. Luis Osejo of the 741st Military Intelligence Battalion. "She was able to communicate with the audience on a very personal level."
This year's theme for Women's History Month is, "Our History Is Our Strength."
Chestnut, a petite woman whose short red hair brushed the nape of her neck, said that what society has presented as history -- the history of the "doing and saying and thinking of men" -- has not been learned or thought of as "men's" history. Instead, it has been accepted as the collective history.
"[This] history is like a river that has always been there -- a river that has carved and shaped the landscape all around us," said Chestnut, who has worked throughout her career on women's issues. "We've built our civilizations and our culture along its banks."
Women's history, on the other hand, has not been given; it is being found, Chestnut said. "That's what makes the difference between the history we've already known so well and women's history so strange ... ," she explained. "As far as we've come in terms of remembering and recovering women's history, we haven't yet internalized that flow of women's doing and saying and thinking as if it were always already our historical context."
The program began with a rendition of the National Anthem by Staff Sgt. Megan Whitter of the U.S. Army Field Band and the invocation by Sgt. First Class Buffie Hall, the installation chaplain's noncommissioned officer-in-charge. In honor of the struggles of women in history, Spc. Della Thompson, chaplain assistant at the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., performed "A Change Is Gonna Come," a song made famous by singer Sam Cooke.
In his welcome, Installation Commander Daniel L. Thomas said he was glad to see so many people at the event, adding that the recognition of Women's History Month is of "great significance to our personnel and community."
During her presentation, Chestnut gave a brief history of the YWCA Greater Baltimore, which was founded in 1883 by white women in Baltimore City to serve the needs of female immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. By 1896, a group of middle-class black women had formed the Colored YWCA of Baltimore.
In 1920, the two associations merged to form the nonreligious organization that exists today, said Chestnut. The YWCA's mission is to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity.
Although women's history has not been acknowledged in the past, Chestnut said she is hopeful that young people will learn about and come to appreciate the contributions of women.
"Young people will grow up steeped in a history that we will have to learn late," she said. "They'll have a much broader, deeper river to carry them into the future."
Chestnut said when young people learn about the history of computer technology, they will learn about the work of Grace Murray Hopper, the first computer programmer and co-developer of the COBOL computer language. In the field of medicine, they will also learn about the contributions of Rosalind Franklin, a scientist whose work was crucial to the discovery of DNA.
Once the underground river of women's history surfaces to serve the young, there will be no way to bury it again, Chestnut said.
After the speech, Col. Brian Moore, chief of staff of Army Cyber Command/2nd Army, and the unit's Command Sgt. Maj. Roger Blackwood presented Chestnut with a Certificate of Appreciation.
The audience then enjoyed a buffet lunch of salads and pastas prepared by Dominique's Catering and Special Events from Culpeper, Va.
"I thought she did a great job of describing the successes that women have given to history," said Kim Dorman, who works in logistics at Army Cyber Command/2nd Army.
Nancy Nicodemus, a reviewer for the Office of Personnel Management, said she was moved by Chestnut's message. "I was very impressed," she said. "Women are empowered. ... We need to be recognized for who we are."