Let's Celebrate the Women in U.S. History!

Nancy Blackman

Why Not Make it a Big Deal?

March 8th marks a global International Women's Day, but in the US, the entire month of March is marked as Women's History Month. Do you wonder where it all began?

It all began with Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams. In a letter dated March 31, 1776, she wrote,

“… I long to hear that you have declared an independency -- and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness.”

Abigail Adams was 15 when she married her husband, John, who was 24. No one really thought much of the age difference, but the fact that she was such a young woman, using her voice to make changes for the women in the U.S. is inspirational.

Later, in 1848, a Declaration of Sentiments was signed into law, eventually making way for the 19th Amendment. On July 19-20, 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held in New York with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott as two of the organizers.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a human rights activist, abolitionist, and leader of the first woman’s rights movement. She rubbed elbows with the likes of feminist and Quaker, Susan B. Anthony, as they advocated for the woman’s right to vote. Although the two of them were part of the women’s suffrage movement, Stanton was also advocating for equal rights for women overall.

I, personally, have come to know Stanton’s writings as she wrote The Woman’s Bible, which went on to become a bestseller. Of course, she was censored. Of course, she was losing credibility, but her voice and passion would not allow her to stop.

Lucretia Mott was also a 19th-century feminist activist, who took up her torch as an abolitionist, pacifist, social reformer, and advocate for women’s rights. She was raised Quaker and believed that all people are created equal. Her fight for equality extended beyond just women’s rights, but for the equal rights of all people—blacks, women, and all marginalized populations.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott fought tirelessly as abolitionists, which is what inspired them to organize the Women’s Rights Convention in 1848.

It was at this convention of 300 attendees, including 68 women and 32 men, of which Frederick Douglass (a slave who became an activist, author, and public speaker of the abolitionist movement) that the Declaration of Sentiments was crafted and penned, editing the Declaration of Independence to read,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

Lucretia Mott, her husband, James Mott, and other Quaker leaders founded Swarthmore College in Philadelphia, PA as a coed institution of higher learning. To this day, Swarthmore College consistently ranks as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the United States. So, although she passed away in 1880, her legacy lives on.

More notable women to celebrate:

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to graduate from medical school and become a doctor. In fact, she graduated with the highest grades of her class from Geneva College in New York. She went on to open a clinic for the impoverished in New York City and, later, a hospital in 1857.

Sojourner Truth was a slave worker turned abolitionist and women’s rights activist. She is famous for her speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?”

“And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne 13 children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?”

Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York. Although she was shut down several times, she kept going, eventually founding the American Birth Control League in 1921, which is the precursor to Planned Parenthood. In 1960, the FDA approved the first birth control pill, which Sanger commissioned with the help of heiress Katherine McCormick.

Jeanette Rankin was the first woman to be elected to Congress in 1917 as a House Representative for Montana. She, along with many other women, were dream and path-carvers for women’s rights.

“I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.”

And so it has been.

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly a plane nonstop, solo, across the Atlantic Ocean. She left Newfoundland, Canada and 15 hours later landed in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Her courage and inspiration have been a legacy for many more female pilots.

Rosa Parks is a well-known name in U.S. History as the Black woman who decided to sit at the front of the bus instead of taking her “proper place” in the back. It was that one action of refusing to give up her seat to a white male that launched the Civil Rights Movement. That was December 1, 1955, and the social justice movement paved a path to end slavery, but unfortunately, did not end discrimination against Black people, which, as we know, still exists today.

Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique co-founds the National Organization for Women (NOW), which uses grassroots activism to “promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate, discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, and economic life.”

Billie Jean King, the great tennis champion of the 1970s beat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match, which was held on September 20, 1973. She has gone on to make great strides for other young female tennis players, paving the way for their right to be included in the sport. Think about Serena and Venus Williams and where they might be today if another woman had not fought for their right to play tennis.

“I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match.”

Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court judge, sworn in on July 7, 1981. She served for 24 years before retiring. She was known as being a firm but just. When she was nominated by former President Ronald Reagan, she received unanimous approval from the U.S. Senate.

Sally Ride was the first American woman to fly in space on the Space Shuttle Challenger. Ride encountered her challenges with sexism. In 1962, she wrote to NASA asking how she could go to space, to which she received this response,

“Your willingness to serve your country as a volunteer is commendable. However, we have no present plans to employ women on space flights because of the degree of scientific and flight training, and the physical characteristics, which are required.”

It wasn’t until the early 1960s when two male Air Force researchers wondered if women might be better suited to fit in the small, cramped spacecraft, but their efforts were shot down by NASA and John Glenn was heard testifying that, “It’s just a fact. The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes … The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order. It may be undesirable.” I guess Sally Ride and a host of other women proved him wrong.

Janet Reno is sworn in on March 12, 1993, as the first female attorney general to the United States by former President Bill Clinton. Prior to serving in this position, Reno paved a path in her home state of Florida, also serving as the first female State Attorney in 1978.

Madeleine Albright, also sworn in by Bill Clinton, became the first female Secretary of State, serving for four years, 1997-2001.

Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House in January 2007, also becoming the first woman to get close to holding the title of President, after the Vice President. As history shows, she returned to this role in 2018. After receiving her gavel in 2007, she said,

“It is a historic moment for the Congress, and a historic moment for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them.”

Hillary Clinton is most noted as being the first female presidential nominee in 2016, but her “firsts” began way before. In 2000, she was the first female to earn a seat in the U.S. Senate after being First Lady. But, way before that, when she was graduating from Wellesley College in 1969, she became the first student to deliver the commencement address.

At the Democratic Convention in 2016, she said, “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come.”

Kamala Harris was sworn in on January 20, 2021, as the first Vice President who is a biracial female. Not only did Harris pave a path for women, but she also opened the door for other women of color to look high for their dreams in politics.

Ketanji Brown Jackson is nominated by President Joseph Biden as the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

Identifying with strong women has always been a long-standing inspiration for young girls and women. To have role models that look like you, can be all the hope a young girl needs. It's no different than young men who look for role models in the news.

Maybe your role model is your mother, grandmother, sister, or aunt. What have they modeled for you?

Why not make take one month to honor women and the trailblazing efforts they have made in U.S. history.

Who is your role model?

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Nancy Blackman is a writer and editor. Her work can be found in Mixed Korean: Our Stories, Together At Last: Stories of Adoption and Reunion in the Age of DNA, and on Medium.

Arlington County, Arlington, VA
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