Over the past 12 months, those towering glass ceilings that have kept women down from reaching the pinnacles of success have been shattering at a fast and furious pace.
In politics, Hillary Clinton made momentous history as the first female to win a major political-party nomination for president and the popular vote for the highest office in the land. Elsewhere, the nation elected its first Hispanic female senator, its first Muslim woman as senator and its first openly LGBTQ state governor.
In sports, the testosterone-heavy National Football League and National Hockey League hired their first female coaches in history. In entertainment, a woman – Amy Schumer – became the first female comic to place in Forbes’ Top 10 list of highest paid comedic entertainers.
In finance, the U.S. Treasury announced abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s face will soon grace the front of $20 bills and a number of suffragists will be added to the backs of five- and ten-dollar paper currency.
Then in January of this year, one day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, women organized the largest one-day protest in American and world history. The Women’s March drew 500,000 to the nation’s capital and more than 5 million worldwide to draw attention to women’s rights, immigration reform, health care needs, LGBTQ rights and other issues many feel are threatened in our rightward- leaning nation and world.
Yet in spite of those accomplishments and advances, lingering and oftentimes demeaning stereotypes and antiquated social mores continue to marginalize women’s rightful and paramount place in history.
Thus as our nation today begins its observance of Women’s History Month, it’s time to cast aside the stereotypes, recognize the pivotal role of women in our nation’s past and commit to tearing down more walls that stunt the full potential of women in enriching our community and our country in the future.
30th ANNIVERSARY YEAR
The birth of March as Women’s History Month took place in 1987 after the national Women’s History Project had lobbied the federal government for seven years, arguing in part that the observance was needed because less than 5 percent of content in standard American history textbooks focuses on women. Clearly women’s contributions to our heritage merit more than a 5 percent crumb of the American pie.
In the ensuing quarter-century, women have received more ink in those textbooks, but, as in many other spheres, they continue to fight to play catch-up.
As researchers Annie Chiponda and Johan Wassermann concluded in their study in the journal Yesterday and Today, “Women continue to be portrayed as historically unimportant and incapable, contributing little to society outside of the domestic [household] sphere.”
This month’s observance serves as a concrete foundation on which to debunk such myths. As former President Barack Obama pointed out last year in his proclamation for Women’s History Month [Trump has yet to issue a similar proclamation], “Throughout our nation’s history, American women have led movements for social and economic justice, made groundbreaking scientific discoveries, enriched our culture with stunning works of art and literature, and charted bold directions in our foreign policy.”
One need not look far to find-real life stories that illustrate the former president’s eloquent prose. In the Mahoning Valley, consider Catherine Dougherty Hillman, who in the late 18th century helped to build the first log cabin, the first frame house and the first tavern in downtown Youngstown.
Consider the pioneer spirit of Margaret Van Horn Dwight, great-grandmother of Sir Winston Churchill, who braved the relentless elements in traveling from Connecticut to Warren, Ohio, in the early 1800s to help establish the capital of the Western Reserve.
Consider the soaring feat of Youngstowner Mary Ann Campana, who on June 4, 1933, set the world’s light airplane endurance record of 12 hours, 27 minutes flying over Youngstown.
Or consider the legacy of Harriet Taylor Upton of Warren, one of the most prominent fighters for women’s right to vote. She worked alongside Susan B. Anthony from 1890 to the adoption of the 19th amendment providing female suffrage in 1920.
By exploring these and many other examples of women’s rich contributions to our culture, we can tear down stereotypes and banish archaic thinking to better understand the critical role women have played in our history and the increasingly dominant role they are playing in making our history.