Women's History Month is traditionally celebrated in March
Carter was the first president to mark a week for women's history
Reagan expanded it to a month
President Donald Trump on Wednesday proclaimed March as Women’s History Month, following a tradition that’s been in place since the 1980s. But how did it begin?
National Women’s Month in the US has its roots in International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8. The day has been marked by the United Nations since 1975 but it was observed in smaller ways in the US as far back as 1911 – nearly a decade before American women were granted the right to vote.
According to the National Women’s History Project, the success of local observations of Women’s History Week bubbled up to the Carter White House. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential statement on Women’s History Week.
Notably, Carter made the case for the Equal Rights Amendment, which had been passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification as the 27th Amendment. It failed to be ratified and still hasn’t been added to the Constitution.
In 1981, Congress asked President Ronald Reagan to make a Women’s History Week proclamation the following year.
His 1982 proclamation read in part: “As leaders in public affairs, American women not only worked to secure their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity but also were principal advocates in the abolitionist, temperance, mental health reform, industrial labor and social reform movements, as well as the modern civil rights movement. Their dedication and commitment heightened awareness of our society’s needs and accelerated our common efforts to meet those needs.”
Reagan and company began a tradition that year, issuing and proclaiming Women’s History Week for the next few years until they realized that the accomplishments of American women couldn’t possibly all be celebrated and appreciated in a single week.
So it was in 1987 that the week expanded to a month, and every president since Reagan has continued the tradition. Every year, the National Women’s History Project chooses a theme for the month. This year’s theme is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”
Here are some of the most powerful passages from past presidents’ proclamations:
President George H.W. Bush, 1989
“Women have demonstrated their great love for this country and have made that love real by their engagement in the lives of others. If any definition of a successful life must include service to others, countless women live successful lives.”
President Bill Clinton, 1994
“On this occasion, we celebrate the lives of women too long missing from our history books. We listen to the voices of women too long absent from our national memory. Most important, we look forward to a day when society need not remind itself to note the extraordinary accomplishments of women. We dream of a time when, in passing the lessons of this generation from teacher to student, from parent to child, we tell a story of women and men working side-by-side. We will say that it took all people, striving together, to build a just and compassionate world of liberty, charity and peace.”
President George W. Bush, 2002
“The history of American women is an expansive story of outstanding individuals who sacrificed much and worked hard in pursuit of a better world, where peace, dignity and opportunity can reign. The spirit of loving determination that shaped these pursuits continues to serve as an example to those who seek to better our nation.”
President Barack Obama, 2012
“During Women’s History Month, we recall that the pioneering legacy of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers is revealed not only in our museums and history books, but also in the fierce determination and limitless potential of our daughters and granddaughters. As we make headway on the crucial issues of our time, let the courageous vision championed by women of past generations inspire us to defend the dreams and opportunities of those to come.”