The origins and significance of Women’s History Month

Barbara Winslow is the author of “Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change.”

March is officially Women’s History Month, providing a chance to salute the trailblazers who paved the way for the rights women have today.

In honor of the month, we sat down with Barbara Winslow, professor in the women’s studies program at Brooklyn College and author of “Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change,” a biography of the first African-American congresswoman, to talk about the celebration’s significance today.

When did the idea of focusing on women’s history take hold?

The women’s liberation movement should be credited with creating Women’s History Month, but it was ultimately President [Jimmy] Carter who, in 1980, proclaimed the week of March 8 to be National Women’s History Week. By 1986, 14 states had already declared March to be Women’s History Month and, in 1987, Congress declared March to be National Women’s History Month.

What was the goal of setting aside time to commemorate women’s contributions to our country?

I think it’s twofold. One is to celebrate the past and those women who fought and died for the cause of women’s rights and the rights of all. Second, the goal is to use this understanding of history to continue organizing and struggling for greater rights for women.

Why is this month especially important for younger women?

Younger women may take the right to vote for granted and take access to contraception and abortion for granted in New York, but the issues facing young women today are very real. Issues of sexual violence and unequal job opportunities are issues that are as real to young women today as the issue of contraception and abortion were to my generation or the vote was to my grandmother’s generation.

What would you like New Yorkers to do at some point this month?

Take advantage of the many events happening here. Every college and university in the New York City area is having event after event and there are some amazing programs being planned.

What about taking a moment to think of how far women have come?

Yes, but we truly can’t rest on the accomplishments we’ve made. There is still much work to be done.

Events and exhibitions

In keeping with this year’s theme for Women’s History Month, “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment,” here are several events and exhibitions taking place in New York City that highlight women and their achievements:
“The Iroquois Influence on Woman’s Rights”: Hear a new approach to the origins of feminism by a pioneer scholar during a lecture on gender equality in the Six Nation Confederacy at Brooklyn’s Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum. March 23 at 2 p.m. at 5816 Clarendon Rd., Canarsie; free, www.nycgovparks.org
“Loving Thy Self: A Celebration of Women’s History Month”: Head to Windows on Amsterdam Gallery at the City College of New York for an exhibition featuring 10 visual artists from the New York area who celebrate women in their art. Now through April 6 at 160 Convent Ave.; free, www.ccny.cuny.edu
“Activist New York”: Explore the Museum of the City of New York’s exhibition “Activist New York,” which traces the development of social activism in New York from the colonial period to the mid-20th century, including the contributions of female activists. Ongoing at 1220 Fifth Ave.; $10, www.mcny.org

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