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Women's History Gets its Due

Often overlooked by historians, women have contributed to the development of national and international societies just as men have. Education World celebrates women's achievements during March, National Women's History Month. Why should you turn your attention to women of the past? Their stories may encourage young girls in your classes to make their mark on the history of tomorrow!

A founding member of the National Women's History Project (NWHP), Mary Ruthsdotter knows the importance of teaching all students about the accomplishments of women -- and she knows it from personal experience!

"As a youngster, I thought I had drawn the short straw being born female," Ruthsdotter told Education World. "None of the stories I was told of adults actively and effectively engaged in the world had to do with women. How startling it was to learn (after college!) that women have played important roles in every aspect of American life -- establishing homes for family life, fighting and spying during every war, establishing social service networks, and dramatically influencing laws and attitudes.

"Holding prominent public offices and winning Olympic downhill ski medals may be new to women," Ruthsdotter adds, "but not because those possibilities had held no interest for them in the past. As social conventions change and women are allowed to do even more with our lives, we will. Amazing and wonderful stories about historic women's lives are already there, just waiting to be heard!"



Students who don't learn the facts can develop the wrong idea about what women have accomplished. "If women's contributions and accomplishments are not mentioned, the omission is not even noticed, but a subtle lesson is learned just as certainly: Women haven't done anything important," said Ruthsdotter. "Knowing that teachers cannot pass along what they themselves have not been taught, from its inception the NWHP aimed to make excellent, user-friendly materials readily available for all areas of the K-12 curriculum. Language arts, social studies, creative arts, the sciences -- women have been active in all these areas, and the stories of their accomplishments are fascinating to explore with students."

The NWHP is an active force in bringing women's history into the classroom. In addition to producing curriculum materials, posters, program guides, and videos, NWHP conducts teacher-training sessions for school districts and state offices of education. Each summer, the organization offers a five-day teacher conference. Throughout the year, the staff works with textbook publishers to increase the representation of women and with trade book publishers to expand their book lists.

"We have built two award-winning Web sites," added Ruthsdotter. National Women's History Project and Living the Legacy: The Women's Rights Movement offer links specifically chosen to facilitate student research on women's history topics and personalities."



How did the NWHP get its start? "In 1977, the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women was working with school principals in the area to help them comply with the new Title IX legislation," explains Ruthsdotter. "Gender equity was the goal, which many school personnel regarded as 'one of those women's movement issues.' The commission realized that a stronger information base about women's historic contributions and accomplishments would help erase the mistaken notion that fair and equal treatment had not been 'earned' by the female half of the population."

Knowledge is power! "With the co-sponsorship of the superintendent of schools, the commission announced a Women's History Week celebration for the week of March 8, 1978 (March 8 was International Women's Day)." Ruthsdotter added, "Materials for K-12 classrooms were sent to every school site in the county, and women were recruited to volunteer for classroom presentations about women's history, contemporary women's issues, career possibilities, traditional women's arts, etc."

The celebration gathered momentum, and a new organization was required. "The first year was such a success that a 1979 program naturally followed, which received a lot of local media attention and was picked up regionally, then nationally," Ruthsdotter said. "The commission began getting so many inquiries from outside the county that it needed another agency to respond. The National Women's History Project was incorporated in 1980 to do just that. Two of the founding members are still with the NWHP, promoting women's history awareness throughout the year." (Ruthsdotter is a founding member.



The Life and Times of Emma Goldman
This site contains a curriculum for middle-school and high-school students that focuses on the writings of Emma Goldman (1869-1940), a feminist leader of the time. The activities involve the use of personal writings that document Goldman's experience as an immigrant worker. The site correlates to a large list of themes: social change, First Amendment rights, labor, progressive politics, the "Red Scare," the rise of industrialism, immigration, women's rights, World War I, and "yellow journalism.

Women in World History Curriculum
The Web site offers information about women in world history and quotes from some of those women. You will also find a group of seven women's history lessons, dating from ancient times to today. Ten biographies of remarkable women of history are included.

Women who Changed the World
A list of famous influential women, including women’s rights activists, poets, musicians, politicians, humanitarians and scientists.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World


Originally published 03/08/1999
Updated 03/04/2013