Happy Women’s History Month! The month of March is set aside each year to reflect on contributions of women to the United States, both past and present.

What are the origins of Women’s History Month?

The annual celebration of Women’s History Month grew out of a weeklong celebration of women’s contributions to U.S. history organized by the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women in 1978, according to womenshistory.org. Organizers of “Women’s History Week” selected the first week of March for the event because it corresponded with International Women’s Day (Feb. 28).

In 1980, led by the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women’s History Alliance), a conglomerate of women’s groups and historians lobbied for national recognition. President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation designating the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week, per womenshistory.org.

“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well,” declared Carter, per the National Women’s History Alliance.

Following Carter’s declaration, state departments of education encouraged celebrations of National Women’s History Week. Oregon, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Alaska and other states developed curriculum plans on women’s history for all their public schools.

Within a few years, schools and communities were enthusiastically celebrating women’s history the first week of March through resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards and the U.S. Congress, reports the National Women’s History Alliance.

By 1986, 14 states had already acknowledged March as Women’s History Month. In 1987, U.S. Congress declared March as Women’s History Month in perpetuity, per Today.

Each year, the White House shares a proclamation recognizing the celebration of Women’s History Month.

“During Women’s History Month, we celebrate the countless women who have fought tirelessly and courageously for equality, justice, and opportunity in our Nation. We also reaffirm our commitment to advancing rights and opportunities for women and girls in the United States and around the world” the White House shared on Tuesday.

“We are mindful that we are building on the legacy of both recognized trailblazers and unsung heroines who have guided the course of American history and continue to shape its future.”

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Women’s History Month 2023 theme

Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance assigns the monthlong celebration with a theme. The 2023 theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.”

The theme recognizes “women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, news and social media,” per History.

Throughout 2023, the National Women’s History Alliance will celebrate women in every community who have devoted their lives to producing art, sharing truth and reflecting on the conditions of our world. This includes women involved in playwriting, journalism, songwriting and more.

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Women to remember during the month of March

Every woman is worth recognition for her efforts. There are hundreds of thousands of women who excel at their work and impact the world for better. Here are a few who have made notable contributions to media and storytelling.

1. Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928—May 28, 2014)

Maya Angelou was an American writer, poet, playwright and civil rights activist. During her life, she authored 36 books, 30 of which were bestselling titles. She rose to notoriety with the publication of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” In 2010, President Barack Obama presented Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, per the White House.

Quote from Angelou: “Life is going to give you just what you put in it. Put your whole heart in everything you do, and pray, then you can wait,” from “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

2. Willa Cather (Dec. 7, 1873—April 24, 1947)

Willa Cather is known as one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century. Many of her books provide insight into life as some of the first white settlers in Nebraska. She beautifully conveys the cultural environment of rural American plains when her family settled there. A few of her most well-known works include: “Alexander’s Bridge,” “My Antonia” and “My Mortal Enemy,” per willacather.org.

Quote from Cather: “The country girls were considered a menace to the social order. Their beauty shone out too boldly against a conventional background,” from “My Antonia.”

3. Lillian Hellman (June 20, 1905—June 30, 1984)

Lillian Hellman was an activist, playwright and memoirist. She is remembered for her rebellious and restless energy. Her plays were a form of activism as they challenged injustice, per PBS. Her first play “The Children’s Hour” faced so much controversy it was banned in several states. Some of her other notable works include: “Another Part of the World,” “The Autumn Garden” and “The Little Foxes.” Her success as a playwright during a time where the area was dominated by men speaks to Hellman’s determination and talent.

Quote from Hellman: “It’s a sad day when you find out that it’s not accident or time or fortune, but just yourself that kept things from you,” from “Pentimento.”

4. Aretha Franklin (March 25, 1942—Aug. 16, 2018)

Aretha Franklin, known as the “Queen of Soul,” was an American singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist. At age 16, she went on tour with Martin Luther King Jr. and later performed at his funeral, per Women of the Hall. When she turned 18 she transitioned from gospel music to pop — she got signed by Columbia Records in 1960, and a year later she had her first international hit. For her musical and civil rights work she earned: multiple Grammy awards, the National Medal of Arts, American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award and was the first women ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Quote from Franklin: “Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well,” per Insider.

5. Gertrude Stein (Feb. 3, 1874—July 27, 1946)

Gertrude Stein was an American writer, playwright, poet and art collector. She is known for her influence on the artistic movement — she helped launch the careers of Henri Matisse, Juan Gris and Pablo Picasso, per the Poetry Foundation. Stein is recognized for her experimental writing and she was connect to a group of writers she dubbed “the Lost Generation,” which included Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some of her works include: “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” “Tender Buttons” and “Picasso.”

Quote from Stein: “One must dare to be happy,” per Goodreads.