ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – During Women’s History Month, people nationwide celebrate women’s achievements and contributions to American history, often attained with courage and sacrifice of thousands, if not millions, of persevering women.
International Women’s Day, March 8, was first designated as an official United Nations observance in 1975. Five years later, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation declaring the week of March 8 to be National Women's History Week. On March 16, 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation dedicating March as Women’s History Month.
“Women have fought for moral and social reform and have taken part in and led many great social and political movements of our land,” the proclamation reads. “Women have founded many of our philanthropic, cultural, educational and charitable institutions. Women have served our nation with valor and distinction during wartime, nursing the wounded, piloting airplanes, performing vital jobs in defense plants," it continues.
However, Women’s History Month traces its origins to several decades earlier, specifically in 1908, when thousands of women working as garment workers went on strike and marched through the streets of New York City to protest poor working conditions and demand better pay, safety laws, shorter hours, and voting rights.
The first National Women’s Day was celebrated a year later, on Feb. 28, 1909, in honor of the anniversary of such protests, and continued to be celebrated on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
In 1911, International Women’s Month was first celebrated in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and Austria, with over a million people attending rallies advocating for women’s rights and to end discrimination.
Over the years, many women have left a mark in our society, becoming impressive role models to future generations.
Here are a few of them:
o Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) was born into slavery but later escaped to freedom, becoming a leading abolitionist, helping more than 300 enslaved people escape through the route of the Underground Railroad.
Her early life was full of hardship. Her family was fractured by the selling of various family members, and suffered physical violence on a daily basis, causing Tubman permanent severe physical injuries.
Once she was able to escape slavery, she made it her mission to rescue her family and others living in slavery via the Underground Railroad. As the Civil War came to an end, Tubman dedicated her life to helping the elderly and impoverished former slaves.
o Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, worked for the American Red Cross during World War I and, once her husband became president in 1933, she became more and more involved in public service.
She held press conferences and spoke out for human rights, children's causes and women's issues, working on behalf of the League of Women Voters.
Roosevelt redefined the role of the first lady through her active participation in American politics and by advocating for human and women’s rights, later becoming chair of the United Nations' Human Rights Commission.
o Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) was an American writer and abolitionist who became a leading figure in the women’s voting rights movement. She was raised in a Quaker family and developed strong morals from a very young age, later dedicating much of her life to social causes. Her family became deeply involved in the abolitionist movement in the 1840s, fighting to end slavery.
Anthony later started advocating for the temperance movement, designed to limit and end the production and sale of alcohol. It is during this time that she was inspired to fight for women’s rights. When she was denied the right to speak at a convention solely because she was a woman, she realized that without voting rights, women would never be taken seriously.
She started fighting for women’s rights and formed the New York State Woman's Rights Committee with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, petitioning for women’s right to vote and own property.
o Mae C. Jemison, the first African American female astronaut, flew into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992, becoming the first African American woman in space. Before being admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program in 1987, she showed from an early age a strong interest in all aspects of science, particularly astronomy. She attended Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship and later graduated with a Medical Doctorate from Cornell University Medical College, pursuing a teaching career and doing medical research.
In 1985, she decided to make a career change and pursue her dreams, applying to NASA's astronaut training program, where she was one of the 15 people chosen out of 2,000 applicants.
Jemison flew into space for eight days in September 1992, and upon returning, she said that society should recognize how much women and other minority groups could contribute if given the opportunity.
o Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997), also known as “the First Lady of Physics,” was a Chinese-American nuclear physicist whose research and contributions earned admiration worldwide.
Born in China, she graduated with top honors with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1934, and later moved to the United States to attend the University of California at Berkeley, where in 1940 she obtained her Ph.D. in physics, focusing her work on uranium fission products.
Wu later became the first female instructor ever at Princeton University, the first woman elected President of the American Physical Society, and in 1944 she joined the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, where she helped solve a problem that scientist Enrico Fermi struggled with.
o Sonia Sotomayor is an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Born in the Bronx, New York, to Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a legal career. After graduating as valedictorian from her high school in 1972 and receiving a full scholarship to Princeton University, she became a student activist and later co-chair of the Acción Puertorriquena organization, designed to support Puerto Rican students and encourage a more diverse faculty at the university.
She later attended Yale Law School to pursue her Juris Doctor degree, continuing her advocacy for hiring a more diverse staff. In 1992, she was nominated to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, becoming the youngest judge to join the court at 38 years old, and gaining a reputation for attention to detail and straightforwardness.
She was nominated by President Barack Obama to the United States Supreme Court in 2009, becoming the first Hispanic and Latina member of the Court.
During this month, we are extremely grateful for the contribution of these outstanding women, who paved the way for future generations of women to continue influencing our society and the world we live in.