Most of us have seen in the news or through social media that March has been deemed as Women’s History Month, but do you know what led to the creation of Women’s History Month? Read below about the evolution of Women’s History Month and how we got to where we are today.
The first Women’s History Day began in 1909 to honor the women who marched in the garment factory strikes in 1908. Women took to the streets of to protest not only the economic rights they were not afforded, but also the unreasonable, and often gruesome, work conditions they were exposed to. Within two years of this protest, Women’s History Day had become an international celebration and that was how remained for the next 60 years.
It was not until the 1970s, that a movement began to address a problem in the K-12 curriculum in California. What was that problem? A lack of women’s history. The local community created a Women’s History Week and a subsequent essay contest that quickly spread to other communities around the country. President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation in 1980 to solidify that March will be Women’s History Month.
By 1987, following the lead of many states, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month. Every year the President passes an annual proclamation for Women’s History Month.
Evolving out of the movement in California, the National Women’s History Alliance still operates today to provide education on the contributions of women throughout history. Additionally, they provide a theme and a campaign for Women’s History Month every year. This year, the theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced.” This theme is in acknowledgement of the centennial celebration around the ratification of the 19th Amendment. This was also the theme for 2020 but is being continued due to most events being canceled as a result of the pandemic.
Women Who Made a Difference in the Legal Field
We all know of the beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg and many of the contributions that she made to expanding women’s rights. Many women, despite political differences, were excited to see the first female elected as Vice President this year. I want to introduce you to some of the lesser-known female influences that created paths for women in the legal field.
Often referred to as the “Dean of Women Lawyers,” Tiera Farrow practiced law before women were even allowed to vote in most places. She enrolled in Kansas City Law School in 1901 and became the first woman to argue before the Kansas Supreme Court. She also became the first female attorney to defend a female client who had been charged with murder. She was denied admission to the Kansas Bar Association, so she simply created her own bar association for women, which still exists today. She published Lawyer in Petticoats which is quite an interesting look into her life as a lawyer in the early 1900s. This book can be found on HeinOnline on the library database page.
Image: Kansas Historical Society, https://www.kshs.org/
Slightly more familiar than Tiera Farrow, Sara Weddington entered into the practice of law in the late 1960s when it was still a male dominated profession. Sara attended University of Texas School of Law and served in the Texas House of Representatives. Her most notable achievement? At age 26, Sara was the youngest attorney to argue before SCOTUS and win. Can you guess the case?
Roe v. Wade. Sara has continued her activism through the work of her foundation, The Weddington Center, and is an active guest speaker at women’s events throughout the country.
Image by: Sara Lim via https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/12/sarah-weddington-roe-v-wade-lawyer-legalise-abortion-america-donald-trump
Bella Abzug was a member of the US House of Representatives and some of you may recognize her campaign slogan, “This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives.” We see the slogan printed on t-shirts and stickers today, but to Bella Abzug it was a reality. She attended Columbia University and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1945. Prior to running for the House of Representatives, she primarily worked with labor rights and civil rights cases. Her activism landed her on the master list of Nixon’s political opponents. Following her time in United States Congress, Bella Abzug actively served as an advocate for women’s rights and environmental protections.
Image: Library of Congress via https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/8276?ret=True
Sol Blatt, Jr. Law Library Resources
HeinOnline has a database dedicated to Women in the Law that has some wonderful articles and resources. The subtitle for the guide is Peggy and is named for Hein’s President’s Mother. She was an avid supporter of women’s rights and thus the database was named after her. The library also has some great print resources such as Notorious RBG and Feminist Legal History: Essays on Women and Law. Check these out to find some wonderful articles and information.
Written by: Katherine N. Fuller
Candidate for Juris Doctor, May 2021
Library Research Fellow