When we think of the month of March, the first things that come to mind for most of us are St Patrick’s Day and Mother’s Day. For me there are family birthdays as well. But how many of you are aware that there is another day celebrated every March called International Women’s Day.
This day had its beginning in 1909 in New York city. And was officially marked for the first time on March 19, 1911. You can read more about the history of International Women’s Day by visiting their website HERE.
Have you ever wondered when it was that women actually started to make their voices heard? If you look at recorded history, you’ll find that women back in the days of Plato were speaking about equal rights. During the 15th century (1401-1500), several female writers including Christine de Pizan who wrote The Book of the City of Ladies and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman argued for greater equality.
As you take a look at how women’s rights progressed in our country it is important to note that enslavement was still practiced at this time, and enslaved Africans certainly did not have property rights, since they were considered property themselves. Our government also destroyed the property rights of the Indigenous men and women in our country with broken treaties, forced relocations, and colonization. So, this early history is, for the most part, about the rights of white women.
In the late 1700’s during the presidency of our second president – John Adams, his wife Abigail wrote a letter to her husband with concerns for our new country and how it needed to look after not only the men but the women as well. This would have been fourteen years after the end of the Revolutionary War. The future First Lady wrote in part:
“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 favorable 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 particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
I like Abigail’s style! And indeed, we saw a “Rebellion” begin in the 1800’s where women came to together to demand greater freedom for themselves as well as to demand an end to slavery.
In the United States, during colonial times women had very few rights. Do you realize that in colonial times if a woman had any belongings, they were controlled by her father? And if she were to marry, her husband would assume control of her belongings. It wasn’t until 1674 that a law was passed in Maryland that gave women the right to be consulted before her husband could do whatever he wished with her belongings. This law stated that “before a man could sell her property, she had to be interviewed by the judge to make sure she approved”. That was only 347 years ago. Not so many years in the grand scheme of things.
One-hundred sixty-five years later, in 1839, white women were given the right to own slaves.
Then in 1848, because of the constant work of Elizabeth Stanton, Paulina Davis, and Ernestine Rose “The Married Women’s Property Act” was made into law. This gave a woman control of her property, even if she was married. Her husband had to have her consent in writing before he could take any action. And this was the first time that mothers were considered as joint guardians of their children. Can you imagine?
In May of 1869, Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. Women would continue this battle until the passing of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920. The 19th Amendment gives all American women the right to vote. In November of 1920 there were more than 8 million American women who cast their vote in the presidential election and this included many Black women. Although, disgracefully, many Black women and men were prevented from voting due to discriminatory laws, intimidation, and other tactics of disenfranchisement. Thus ends what is called the 1st Wave of Feminism.
When WWII came around it was necessary for women to fill the jobs left behind by the men who were off fighting the war. Rosie the Riveter was the icon used as propaganda to get more women into the workforce helping with munitions and making airplanes. Of course, they never received close to the pay the men had been receiving for the same work.
After the war we then moved into the Civil Rights Movement era. In Dec of 1955, a Black seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This helped to launch the movement.
Then in February of 1960, a little girl was born to Ken and Le Ella Mjoen. That would be me. And I have to say that it amazes me still to look back through history and see just how far women’s rights have come in my lifetime. What follows is a brief synopsis:
May 9, 1960 – The FDA approves “the pill” for birth control
June 10, 1963 – President John F Kennedy signs into law the Equal Pay Act prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination
July 2, 1964 – President Lyndon B Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law; Title VII bans employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin or sex
June 30, 1966 – Betty Friedan, author of 1963’s The Feminine Mystique, helps found the National Organization for Women
1970’s – Women are given the right to open a personal bank account and can now apply for their own personal credit card. This one blows my mind!! I had no idea that it had even been an issue at that time in our history.
1972 – Katharine Graham became the first female CEO in American history of a Fortune 500 company when she took over The Washington Post
June 23, 1972 – Title IX of the Education Amendments is signed into law by President Richard Nixon which states that no one, on the basis of sex, will be excluded from participation in any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance
January 22, 1973 – Roe v. Wade gives women a legal right to an abortion
July 7, 1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor is sworn in by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to serve on the US Supreme court
June 18, 1983 – Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space
July 12, 1984 – Presidential nominee Walter Mondale names US Representative Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, making her the first woman vice president nominee
March 12, 1993 – Janet Reno is sworn in as the first female attorney general
January 23, 1997 – Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the nations first female secretary of state
January 20, 2021 – Kamala Harris is sworn in as the first woman and first woman of color vice president of the United States
This historic recap is certainly not complete. There are many more women who have gone before us. Their sacrifices allow you and I to have a better life than they had. This history is something that we as women should hold as sacred.
Again, I have to state how amazed I am with how much has changed for women just during my lifetime. I promise to do my part to maintain and nurture these rights that I get to benefit from today. And continue to improve where improvement is needed all aspects of women’s lives.
This weekend, March 6-7, in celebration of International Women’s Day, the organization is putting on a free virtual conference. They will be discussing a wide variety of topics. To view the Event Details and register for the event click on this LINK.
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