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by Roanny Colon, student writer


Every year in March, the nation recognizes Women’s History Month. It’s a time of year when Americans can reflect, recognize, and admire the women who have made strides to overcome inequality. Less than two years ago, this nation witnessed an event that a century ago would not have been possible. Former New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton petitioned her bid to run for president of the United States.
In the beginning of primary season, her battle was tough—she wasn’t pulling in the votes she needed to land the prominent states. Yet, as the season was winding down and Clinton won Pennsylvania, a key battle ground state, her popularity soared and her number of votes did too. However, on June 3, 2008, she didn’t quite have what she needed to win the nomination and that’s when she withdrew. She, however, will forever be remembered as the first female to dutifully run for president of the United States.
The Women’s International Center of Pennsylvania (WIC) dedicated a section of their Web site to the History of Women in America. The history begins when two women are ostracized just for being women. Seneca Falls, N.Y. has widely been identified as the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement. On July 19, 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights meeting that drew a crowd of about 300 women and men. In motion was the Declaration of Sentiments, an equal-rights adaptation of the Declaration of Independence, which received a significant amount of negative press. It, however, brought widespread publicity that helped stimulate the cause for women’s rights.
At history.com, the catalyst that ignited the women’s suffrage movement began in London in 1840. Stanton and Mott were in attendance at the World Anti-Slavery Convention but they were forced to sit in the galleries as observers because of their gender. This unfair treatment did not sit well with these women of progressive thoughts, so they decided to hold a convention of their own discussing the social, civil, and religious rights of women. Resolution 9, of the Declaration of Sentiments, was perhaps the most important in that it expressed the demand for sexual equality by granting women the right to vote. The demand to vote became the forefront of the women’s rights movement following the Seneca Falls convention. Six years later, the Woman’s Suffrage Amendment was introduced to the U.S. Congress for the first time, and women finally got the right to vote in 1920.
The trigger of the second wave of feminist activity began in the early 1960s when The Feminine Mystique, a book written by Betty Friedan, became surprisingly popular. Friedan describes in her book the dissatisfaction of educated middle-class wives and mothers who, like herself, reflect on the family they have, the nice things they own, and wonders if this is all there is to life. Friedan steered away from blaming women themselves, but instead blamed the role of the women and the society that created it.
In the early 1990s, a movement labeled as the “third wave” came about in response to the perceived failures of the second wave. One major initiative that stuck with third wave feminism is the rallying of the younger generation. Feminist embedded in the second wave, suggested a new feminist voice. That equated feminist thought with race-related issues. Gloria Jean Watkins, also known as “bell hooks,” has long been recognized as a major critic of the women’s liberation movement. As she illustrated in her book, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, the movement lacked minority voices. “This movement glossed over race and class and thus failed to address ‘the issues that divided women,’” she argued.
The celebration of women’s history in this country began as Women’s History Week in 1978. This week is centered on March 8—known as International Women’s Day. Borgan Brunner, author of Time Almanac, revealed that in 1981 Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Barbara Mikulski co-sponsored a joint Congressional resolution proclaimed a national Women’s History Week. In 1987, Congress extended the recognition to a month. March is now observed as Women’s History Month; a month that celebrates the pioneers who helped women obtain a more equal place in society. While goals such as equal pay and achieving the presidency continue to be attained, women have the ability to do so. In addition, Congress has now passed laws guaranteeing women the rights to sue over unequal pay and unfair treatment.
Historically, men have seen women as a major source of temptation and evil. In Greek mythology, it was Pandora who opened the forbidden box that brought plagues and unhappiness to mankind. In the book of Genesis, it was Eve who ate the forbidden fruit after being instructed by Adam—who was instructed by God—not to. Elissa Haney, author and editor at Information Please, pointed out that in the early 19th century, when the women’s rights movement began, women were largely regarded as second-class citizens. Married women were forced to give up their rights to their husbands. Even a number of the nation’s founding principles, including the right to representation, the right to own property, and the right to vote, were not granted to women. Yet, today, the number of women registered to vote surpasses the number of men registered by 8.3 million. Additionally, women are considered the majority at all nationwide colleges and universities. At HPU, women make up 58.2 percent to men’s 41.8 percent of total undergraduate and graduate enrollment. That’s a difference of 1,365 more female students to male students.
Contraception, and in some areas, legalized abortion, have given women much authority over the number of children they choose to have, highlighted by WIC. “Despite the fact that these developments have allowed women the freedom to opt out of the role of motherhood, there still exists that cultural pressure for women to become wives and mothers which disrupts many capable women from completing college or attaining careers,” said Linda Leirheimer, associate professor of Humanities.
Since 1920, American women have had the right to vote. In spite of this, their political roles have been small. Yet, in 1984, a major party chose Geraldine Ferraro, a woman from New York, to run for vice-president. Prior to that, two other major political accomplishments among women had been witnessed. Patrice Sewell Latting was elected mayor of Oklahoma City in 1971; the largest city in the nation at that time with a female mayor. Former President Reagan made an unconventional choice when he appointed Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman on the United States Supreme Court in 1981.
Women in the United States have always had a presence on the political stage. Throughout the 19th century, women coordinated and took part in reform movements designed to improve education, initiate prison reform, ban alcoholic drinks, and, during the pre-Civil War era, free slaves. In 1872, the Prohibition Party became the first national political party to recognize the right of suffrage for women.
Before 1970, women’s history was seldom the subject of serious study. Gerda Lerner, author and historian stated, “When I started working on women’s history about 30 years ago, the field did not exist. People didn’t think that women had a history worth knowing.” Now, almost every college and university offers women’s history courses with graduate and doctoral degrees in the field as well. It’s not just women’s history. It’s United States history and in order to understand how far we’ve (women) come, it’s important to know where we (women) came from.”

 

 

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