Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day are important times to uplift women and celebrate their steps toward equality while also recognizing the obstacles they still face today. Have you ever wondered how March became the month to honor women or how this tradition got started in the first place? Here’s some background on this important commemoration and a few different ways colleges around the country celebrate women during March.
The history of women’s history
As with many long-standing traditions, there are a few prominent points in the history of Women’s History Month worth mentioning. In the US, recognizing women dates back to the early 1900s when the Socialist Party of America sought to establish International Women’s Day in New York City to call attention to the injustices faced by women workers as part of a wider action plan for better labor conditions. Led by German activist Clara Zetkin, International Women’s Day was officially recognized in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1910 at a women’s conference consisting of representatives from 17 countries. They chose to celebrate the holiday in March due to a labor strike led by women that galvanized the movement. This set the precedent of focusing on women’s struggles and accomplishments during this month. International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time on March 8, 1911, across Western Europe, but the day would not be widely commemorated in the US until decades later. By 1975, the United Nations began promoting it and the holiday spread.
Although in some ways they are entwined, International Women’s Day is a global holiday, while Women’s History Month is a newer designation that was officially established by the US in the 1980s. In light of the overall success of International Women’s Day, US activists and the National Women’s History Project lobbied for a National Women’s History Week, which came to fruition in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter. By 1987, the movement had grown from a week to the National Women’s History Month we celebrate today.
Celebrating women around the world
Although specific celebrations have come and gone over the years, the themes of recognizing women’s contributions to society and pushing for further gender equality remain constant throughout the month. Purple is designated as a symbolic color for women’s rights, representing justice and dignity, with many parades, marches, protests, and other events proudly displaying the color as a symbol of the past, present, and future journey toward women’s equality.
Since International Women’s Day is globally celebrated, some individual countries have special traditions. In Italy, it’s customary for men to give women yellow mimosa flowers as a symbol of female solidarity and male support. This beautiful tradition started around the World War II era and has continued ever since. In the US, it’s customary for the president to issue an official proclamation about National Women’s History Month at the beginning of March. Included in this document is recognition of the many accomplishments and contributions of American women, both recent and historic. As Women’s History Month is designed to address the erasure of women from the historical narrative, many groups take this time to focus on women’s contributions to their respective fields.
Celebrating women on campus
Many colleges have come up with their own creative ways to celebrate Women’s History Month on their campuses. In 2022, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created a walking tour of campus focused on highlighting the vast range of women’s experiences at UNC, from women’s first admittance to the University in 1897 to current hurdles. Similarly, the University of Texas at Austin created a Women’s History Month collection of museum exhibits, features on influential female alumni and staff members, and fresh publications centered on pivotal women authored by other leading women. Both schools used a variety of mediums to draw attention to the overlooked but significant achievements of women, connecting their individual histories to make women’s experiences more relevant and increasing student interest, learning, and engagement.
More ways to celebrate
Many other universities offer a plethora of events to celebrate Women’s History Month, from faculty panels to discuss women’s issues and female speakers at meetings to interactive game-show style events to bring awareness to the role of women in history. Now is a great time to check out what fun events or celebrations your colleges of interest or the school you attend have planned. You can also take some time to shine a light on women in your own way. This could include supporting women-owned businesses, expressing heartfelt gratitude toward the women in your life, or committing to reading literature from women authors. To make the movement even bigger, celebrate with friends! Consider hosting a movie night featuring films about impactful women such as Hidden Figures or Harriet. The possibilities are endless.
Now that you know more about the origins of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, you’re more than prepared to celebrate in your own way. There are most likely a multitude of events in your area or on your campus this month, so get out there and participate. As you do so, be sure to remember the infinite numbers of women who’ve paved the way before us in working toward a more just and equitable society.
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