Her Story: Women’s History Day, Month & Museum

by M. Diane Bairstow

The Year of the Woman February 1920/2020

Every month we are following the ratification of the 19th Amendment and considering women’s issues then and now. In March 1920, West Virginia and Washington signed onto the 19th Amendment. Thirty-five states down, only one left to go!

International Women’s Day

Women’s Day began on February 28, 1909. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America who championed worker’s rights, trade unions, farmers, immigrants and women. In 1910, the International Socialist Women’s Conference proposed that March 8 become an annual celebration in honor of working women, and the following year (1911) it became official.

In the United States, the success of the suffrage movement contributed to a decline in the popularity of the IWD. However, it was revitalized by the growth of feminism in the 1960s and UN sponsorship in 1975.

Women’s History Month

On the 100th anniversary of IWD (March 8, 2011), Barack Obama proclaimed March to be “Women’s History Month.” Also to coincide with the 100th Anniversary, the White House issued a 50-year progress report on the status of women in the United States. It found that younger women were more likely than their male counterparts to hold a college degree and that the number of men and women in the labor force had nearly equalized.

Around the globe

In 27 countries including Russia, China, Vietnam and Cuba, IWD is an official holiday. It is so popular that in most of these countries if it falls on a weekend, it is moved to the following Monday, and in several countries, if it falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, they will extend the celebrations to include Monday or Friday. In China, women are entitled to a half a day holiday, and in Madagascar and Nepal it is a women’s-only holiday.

Women’s History Museum

Since 2013 Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney* (D-N.Y.) has been working to establish a Women’s Museum on the Mall in D.C.  She and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a bill to establish a privately funded bipartisan commission to determine the feasibility of a women’s history museum. In November 2016, she sponsored a bill which led to a Congressional commission that recommended the creation of a new Smithsonian Museum dedicated to women’s history. In March 2019, Maloney, Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced the “Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act.”

On February 11, 2020, the House of Representatives, in a largely bi-partisan vote, approved the bill. Two hundred and twenty-four Democrats and 150 Republicans voted in favor of the bill. The only woman who voted against it was Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), daughter of former Vice President Richard Cheney.

“I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”

The theme for this year’s IWD is, “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” Will this be the generation to finally “realize” (bring into reality) gender equality?  Perhaps so. Millennial women are better-educated than their male counterparts, and in many instances professional childless women actually earn more.

Breaking news

Last month, on February 12, the House voted to eliminate the deadline for adding the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution. The 1972 Amendment failed ratification by 3 states when its 1982 deadline passed. Also last January (2020), Virginia became the 38th, and final state, needed for ratification. Of course this has to pass the Senate, so action is unlikely this year.

*Carolyn Maloney was also a lead sponsor on the Equal Rights Amendment, and she has reintroduced it to Congress every year since 1997.