A History of Women’s History Month

February 10, 2010

The roots of National Women's History Month go back to “Women’s History Week,” first celebrated in Sonoma County, California, in 1978. This public celebration was scheduled around March 8, International Women’s Day, long celebrated in socialist countries, but not in the U.S. despite the fact that the first International Women’s Day was held in the United States in 1909 honoring a women’s garment workers strike of the previous year.

In 1980 President Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as the first National Women’s History Week and women’s history celebrations were quickly adapted in many communities and organizations. In 1981, the unlikely combination of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and then–Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) cosponsored a joint congressional resolution proclaiming a national Women’s History Week. Six years later, Congress expanded the celebration to the entire month of March; the National Women’s History Project, which spearheaded the creation of National Women's History Month and coordinates annual themes, celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2010.

The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, 1975, during the U.N. International Women’s Year and encouraged member states to establish a similar day on a date appropriate to their traditions. Celebration of International Women’s Day has extended to over 60 nations, although not always on the same date. To sample some of these celebrations, explore the over 900 programs listed for 2009 at the International Women’s Day website, a “service to women around the world wanting to share and promote their IWD activity, videos, opinions, and ideas” provided for free since 2001 by Aurora, a British marketing company.