Women’s History Month: Women I Never Knew

March is Women’s History Month for those of you who didn’t know. And if you didn’t, now you do. According to this website, “Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as ‘Women’s History Week.'” In 1995, President’s have issued proclamations declaring the month of March to be Women’s History Month, this year is no different. President Biden’s declaration is here if you’d like to peruse it. I have to be perfectly frank, I didn’t know this was a thing until probably 4 or 5 years ago. When I realized that, I also wondered what else I’d been missing about this month. Are there women who I should be aware of and know about that I don’t? Yup.

I asked some of my girlfriends if they had women who they looked up to throughout history and they all had to really think about it. I did too. I could name a number of men I used to look up to, but not women. I do think that’s society’s influence. If you think about it, we are mainly taught about men in school: famous men writers, famous men historical figures (ahem, Hamilton), men composers, and men mathematicians. As I’ve become older, I’ve become more aware that this is crazy. Why DO we only get taught about these men and NOT women? It’s not like women haven’t made huge impacts in our history…

This Women’s History Month, I decided I needed to educate myself and found women (1 still alive) that I think we all should know. There are so many more that I haven’t found or haven’t had time to cover – and this would be a super long post. A website that has been invaluable is the National Women’s History Museum. This was an eye-opener because I didn’t know a site like this even existed.

The Women

The Entertainers

Mary Pickford – One of the world’s most famous actresses in the 1910s and 20s, Mary was more than a pretty face. In 1919 she co-founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, DW Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks, in order to let actors be in charge of their own careers instead of being forced to work on specific movies. She also did a lot of philanthropic work according to her own website. In addition to all of this, she teamed up with the next impressive woman on this list, Frances Marion, the screenwriter…

Frances Marion – Often called the “woman who invented the Hollywood screenwriter,” she wrote over 130 films (!) starting around 1914 and continuing to the 1940s. I first heard about her when I caught a documentary on Turner Classic Movies called “Without Lying Down.” If you ever have a chance to see it, do! It was such an eye opener because it virtually proclaims that women created the Hollywood that made money – as soon as they did, the men swooped in to take it over because they saw how much money was to be made. I’d liken it to the current social media money boon – women are the pioneers. I’m waiting for the men to find ways to take it over.

Dolly Parton – We all know her as the woman who created the song “9 to 5” and starred in the movie. But, she’s much more than that. In 1995 she started a program called “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library” that mails “free, high-quality books to children from birth to age five, no matter their family’s income.” I was just made aware of this program because my nephew had a book that had a stamp “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library” on it and I was like, what the heck is this? So I looked it up and was stunned to find out Dolly was doing this. We all know by now that she also donated $1 million to Covid vaccine research as well.

The Barrier Breakers

Gertrude Bell – I don’t remember when I first heard of Gertrude Bell, but I’m happy I did. She “was an English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist who explored, mapped, and became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her knowledge and contacts, built up through extensive travels in Syria-Palestine, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Arabia.” In fact, she was with T. E. Lawrence (yes, Lawrence of Arabia fame) on some of her travels through what was called Arabia. I find it interesting we never learn that, but we all know about Lawrence of Arabia. If you want to find out more about her and the interesting life she led, check out this book – I thought it was great!

Katherine Johnson – We’ve all seen the movie “Hidden Figures” (if you haven’t, rent it now!), so this is a bit of a gimmie. However, she is someone we need to continue to teach about. The movie piqued interest in her and we have to make sure neither she, nor her work, is forgotten. Had John Glenn not asked engineers to “get the girl”—Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine, the United States would never have gotten ahead of the Soviet Union in the space race.

Maggie Lena Walker – was the first woman, and the first black woman, to own a bank in the United States. Walker’s entrepreneurial skills transformed black business practices while also inspiring other women to enter the field. Holy cow, how did I not know this? In 1903, she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank – the first woman of ANY race to create a new bank. It was also one of the few banks during the Great Depression to stay afloat. All because one woman dared to take a chance. This should be in history books.

The Politicians

Alice Paul – helped to get the 19th Amendment passed – you know it as the one that gave women the right to vote. That’s all well and good, but the more interesting part of Alice’s life is that she authored the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923 – which has still NOT. BEEN. PASSED. You read that right – not all the states of America have ratified it. In the year 2021. The bill was to guarantee women constitutional protection from discrimination. Gee, had that passed maybe things would be different now. Maybe we’d get equal pay as our men counterparts. I guess we’ll never know.

Bella Abzug – talk about a late bloomer – Bella didn’t even run for office till she was 50. She wore big-brimmed hats, was called “Battling Bella” and presided over the first National Women’s Conference in 1977. She was a Congress woman for 3 terms, failed to win a seat in the all male Senate, and then “founded Women USA, a grassroots political action organization. At the same time, she was playing a major role at the UN International Women’s Conferences, practicing law, publishing and lecturing.”  This Jewish woman from New York gave her all in trying to give women equal footing to men. It was said that if there was no Bella Abzug, there would have been no Geraldine Ferraro (the first woman who ran for Vice-President in 1984) – well now it should be, if there was no Bella or Geraldine, there would be no Kamala Harris.

Barbara Jordan – “…was the first Black woman elected to the Texas state senate and the first Black Texan in Congress.”  She also gave “the 15-minute opening statement of the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing for Richard Nixon.” We hear all about how Nixon was impeached, but nothing about this woman who upheld the constitution when she could have sat by and said nothing. We have heard nothing about her – why is that? In addition to that, she also was “asked to deliver the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention—another first for an African American woman.

As you can see, there are so many women I haven’t heard about and I consider myself very well educated. I could go all conspiracy theory here and say it’s the men who want to keep us down so they don’t tell us about this, but I won’t. I’ll just say it’s up to us to find these women AND keep their names and work alive. It’s one thing to do it during Women’s History Month when everyone is giving kudos to all women, but it’s another to keep it alive on that random Tuesday in July. I’ve got to remind myself to do this as well – I have to embrace my feminist side even more.

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