History of Women’s History Month
March is designated as Women’s History Month and selected for celebrating women’s contributions to American history. Celebration of women’s history, women’s movements, and Women’s History Month are relatively recent phenomena and are part of the global commemoration of the vital role women play in society.
The public celebration of women’s history in America began in Santa Rosa, California. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women first celebrated a “Women’s History Week” in 1978. The members of the Task Force selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day. The movement spread across the country and communities initiated their own Women’s History Week celebrations the following year.
In 1980, as outlined in the Library of Congress Archives, a consortium of women’s groups and historians led by the National Women’s History Project, now known as the National Women’s History Alliance, successfully lobbied for national recognition. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week. Subsequent Presidents continued to proclaim a National Women’s History Week in March until 1987 when Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, Presidents have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”
Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance selects and publishes the yearly theme. The 2019 Women’s History Month theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence.” The theme honors “women who have led efforts to end war, violence, and injustice and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society.”
Featured Resource: A CMU Library Book
Remarkably, consistent with the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month is a project of international significance undertaken on CMU campus and in The Hague in recent years by Hope Elizabeth May, Professor of Philosophy at Central Michigan University. Dr. May edited a book as part of her Bertha von Suttner Project, showcasing Bertha von Suttner’s pioneering efforts to end World War I even before it started. Published in Mount Pleasant, the book is presented here as our featured resource of Women’s History Month in honor of Suttner. Please see the citation and description of the book below.
Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914) was an Austrian peace activist and a leader of the 19th century peace through law movement who wrote a visionary essay arguing against aerial bombardment going on before the beginning of World War I and passionately urging the international community to renew the Hague Declarations of 1899 and 1907 on the Launching of Projectiles and Explosives from Balloons in order to save humankind from “the profanation of the firmament.” Notably, Suttner was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 and was credited with inspiring Alfred Nobel to create the prize. In her book, May publishes the first complete English translation of Suttner’s essay ‘Die Barbarisierung der Luft’ originally published in German in 1912 and highlights in her foreword the significance of Suttner’s thoughts today as well as that of the role women historically played in bringing about peace on the international forefront through law. Had Suttner’s endeavors been successful, they would have completely changed the history of humankind.
Citation: Bertha von Suttner. The Barbarization of the Sky. Foreword by Hope Elizabeth May, introduction by Jeroen Vervliet, translated from the German by Belinda Cooper, edited by Hope Elizabeth May. Mount Pleasant, Michigan: The Bertha von Suttner Project, 2016.