This March marks the 31st anniversary of a law labeling Women’s History Month in the United States. This annual observance shines a light on women’s achievements through parades, lectures, health screenings, art exhibits, and other activities that highlight women and their contributions to society.
National Women’s History Month evolved from International Women’s Day to Women’s History Week. The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8, 1911. This day was dedicated to honoring women’s achievements worldwide. The United Nations has also sponsored International Women’s Day observances since 1975. The idea of Women’s History Week came to be when a school district in Sonoma, California decided to honor women’s achievements by participating in a Women’s History Week event in 1978.
A two-week conference examining the history of women was held at Sarah Lawrence College the following year. People who participated in this conference learned about Sonoma County's Women's History Week and decided to organize similar celebrations within their own schools and organizations. During the next seven months, the people pushed for a declaration of Women’s History Week, and in March 1980, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women's History Week. Across the country, schools were incorporating this week of women’s history into their curriculum, and the week eventually grew into a month long observance.
In 1987, Congress passed a law which designated the month of March 1987 as Women’s History Month, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, an American non-profit organization dedicated to honoring and preserving the history of women. Congress passed additional resolutions authorizing and requesting the President to proclaim March of every year as Women’s History Month. U.S. presidents have issued yearly proclamations designating the month of March as National Women’s History Month.
Departments of education in some states began to encourage the celebration of Women’s History Month as a way to encourage equality among the sexes in the classroom. States such as Alaska, Maryland, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania developed and taught curriculum materials in their public schools which led to educational events, such as essay contests. Thousands of schools and communities began celebrating Women’s History Month within a few years. Engaging and stimulating programs about the roles of women in history and society were planned, with support and encouragements from governors, school boards, city councils, and U.S. Congress.