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Here’s your mid-National Women’s History Month refresher

Matilda Joslyn Gage
Matilda Joslyn Gage via Library of Congress

It comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. It’s the month when we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the first day of spring and Pi Day. Until 150 B.C., it was the first month of the year and was named after the Roman god of war, Mars.

It’s a month of basketball, of wacky weather and, for Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. the 15th was a tragically eventful day — what part of “beware the Ides of March” didn’t you get, buddy?)

You know what else it is?

National Women’s History Month.

Or as we over at the women’s history podcast that I co-host call it: March.

Don’t get me wrong, having a month set aside to shine a spotlight on the contributions, achievements and struggles of women throughout history is necessary. It’s important.

Think back to your own school history classes: how many women did you study? How many chapters and books did you read from kindergarten through high school that focused solely on women? Not many, right?

Let’s play a game: For every man of history that I list, can you think of the name of a woman? Not the woman that goes with the man or even had as long a resume, but someone that sort of matches. If I said “George Washington” the answer can’t be “Martha Washington,” but it could be Sybil Ludington.

Sybil was a 16-year-old girl Revolutionary War patriot. She rode a horse alone at night, not only in the rain but farther than Paul Revere did, to rally troops as the British Army advanced.

Benjamin Franklin

How about abolitionist and women’s rights pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Like Ben she wrote speeches, newspaper articles, books and a pretty important document: the 19th Amendment, which gave women the vote 18 years after she died.

Frederick Douglass

How about Sojourner Truth? A former slave who became a powerful voice for abolition and civil and women’s rights.

Charles Lindberg

Amelia Earhart is too easy, let’s go with Harriet Quimby. Harriet was the first American woman to get her pilot’s license, the first woman to fly across the English Channel, and she had a career as a journalist and theater critic all before she died when Charles Lindberg was only 10 years old.

Or Bessie Coleman. She was the first African American, male or female, to earn a pilot’s license.

Some people think of history as old-timey, dull ... but the history of the past propels us into our futures. Every time we learn about another woman who did something remarkable, we can add her to the parade of women that are pushing us all to do remarkable things.

History and women’s history isn’t something that lays dormant in the past. It’s something that’s alive today and not just for the 31 days of March.

“The women of today are the thoughts of their mothers and grandmothers, embodied and made alive. They are active, capable, determined and bound to win. They have one-thousand generations back of them. ... Millions of women dead and gone are speaking through us today.”

That wasn’t said during the first National Women’s History week in 1980, or month in 1987 ... it was said in 1889 by Matilda Joslyn Gage, a woman who worked with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. A lot of people have never heard of her, although they might know her son-in-law, L. Frank Baum, who wrote “The Wizard of Oz” books.

We’re already halfway through the month, but we need to keep shining the spotlight on women like Matilda, so we won’t know her because of the men in her life but for her own achievements. If everyone spends enough time getting to know these women, someday women’s history will become simply “history” and the month, simply March.

Susan Vollenweider lives in the Northland. Along with Beckett Graham she co-hosts the women’s history podcast, The History Chicks and the historical media recap podcast, The Recappery. To listen to both of these shows visit www.thehistorychicks.com or click through your favorite podcast app.

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