History Stories

Women’s History Month can trace its origins to a small-town school event in Sonoma, California, in 1978. That year, presentations were given at dozens of schools, hundreds of students participated in a “Real Woman” essay contest and a parade was held in downtown Santa Rosa. A few years later, the idea caught on within communities, school districts and organizations across the country, and in 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, as National Women’s History Week. The U.S. Congress followed suit the next year, passing a resolution establishing a national celebration. Six years later, the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to expand the event to the entire month of March, which the United States has observed since 1987. In honor of Women’s History Month, explore this week’s featured collection Women of History.

Eleanor Roosevelt overcame a difficult childhood and an often-rocky marriage to Franklin D. Roosevelt to forge an influential career as an activist. As first lady, she had her own staff, held her own press conferences and championed causes like civil rights and housing for the poor, becoming one of the most active first ladies in history. After President Roosevelt’s death, Eleanor was a delegate to the United Nations and continued to serve as an advocate for a wide range of human rights issues. She remained active in Democratic causes and was a prolific writer until her death at age 78. Explore her story in Eleanor Roosevelt: A Restless Spirit.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) were a pioneering organization of civilian female pilots who flew military aircrafts in noncombat missions during World War II. 25,000 women applied to the program, less than 2,000 were accepted, and over 1,100 actually served. They flew over 60 million miles in every type of military aircraft, including B-26 and B-29 bombers. Thirty-eight WASPs lost their lives during the war. Considered civil service employees without official military status, these fallen WASPs were granted no military honors or benefits, and it wasn’t until 1977 that they received full military status. On March 10, 2010, at a ceremony in the Capitol, the WASPS received the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest civilian honors. Get more of the story in Women Combat Pilots: The Right Stuff.

Through their struggles and triumphs, these women changed the world. Here’s a look at some more episodes from Women of History:

  • Roman administrators tried to control the Iceni by appropriating their land and disarming the tribe, but Boudicca: Warrior Queen raised a mighty army and took the fight to the Romans.
  • In the midst of great hardship, women from both the North and South were inspired to join the war effort. Look at their surprising new roles either in factories or on the frontline in Civil War Journal: Women at War.
  • In Imelda Marcos: Steel Butterfly, take a peek at this portrait of the colorful and controversial former First Lady of the Philippines, who went on buying sprees that included New York City skyscrapers and 3,000 pairs of shoes.

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