The concept of Women’s History Month began in 1981 when Congress passed Public Law 97-28, authorizing and requesting then President Reagan to proclaim the week of March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.” After petitions from the National Women’s History Project, Congress then passed Public Law 100-9 in 1987, which declared March as “Women’s History Month.” Congress continued to pass resolutions asking the president to proclaim March as Women’s History Month, and since 1995, presidents have proclaimed each March as a time to recognize the achievements of women throughout American history.
When President Reagan issued Proclamation 5619, he shared, “Women have fought for moral and social reform and have taken part in and led many great social and political movements of our land. Women have founded many of our philanthropic, cultural, educational and charitable institutions. Women have served our Nation with valor and distinction during wartime, nursing the wounded, piloting airplanes, performing vital jobs in defense plants. Women have forged a place for themselves in public life, serving on the Supreme Court, in the Congress, and in Cabinet posts; becoming Ambassadors; and holding Federal Executive posts that affect the lives of every citizen. Most importantly, as women take part in the world of work, they also continue to embrace and nurture the family as they have always done.”
In celebration of the 2021 Women’s History Month, here are 21 facts about this observance and the high-achieving women it honors each year:
1. Women’s History Month is co-celebrated globally. The United Kingdom and Australia also celebrate the month, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8.
2. The first Women’s Day celebration in the United States was held in New York City in 1909.
3. Women outnumber men as the U.S. population, with women making up 51.1 percent of the population.
4. Rep. Jeannette Rankin of Montana was the first woman elected to Congress. She was elected four years before the 19th Amendment, giving all American women the right to vote, was ratified.
5. Seneca Falls, N.Y. — the location of the 1949 Convention on Women’s Rights — is now the site of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
6. Mary Church Terrell was the first African-American woman to earn a college degree, graduating from Oberlin College in 1884.
7. Kathryn Bigelow is the first and only woman to date to win the Oscar (Academy Award) for Best Director. She won for The Hurt Locker in 2009.
8. One in every 10 U.S. veterans is a woman.
9. Vice President Kamala Harris is the first woman elected vice president. Two women were previously nominated: Geraldine Ferraro (1984) and Sarah Palin (2008).
10. In Congress, 144 of 539 seats (including delegates) — or 27% — are held by women.
11. Presently, nine women serve as U.S. state governors:
Kay Ivey (R-AL),
Kim Reynolds (R-IA),
Laura Kelly (D-KS),
Janet Mills (D-ME),
Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI),
Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM),
Kate Brown (D-OR),
Gina Raimondo (D-RI) and
Kristi Noem (R-SD).
12. Martha McSally was the first U.S. woman to fly in combat, later becoming a U.S. senator for Arizona. Along with Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona has been one of six states to have two women serving as its state senators.
Junior League members have also made an indelible mark on history:
13. Junior League of Bangor, Maine, member Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to have served in both the House and the Senate.
14. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt began her path to humanitarian work as a Junior League of the City of New York volunteer. Many other former First Ladies have followed in her footsteps, including:
Barbara and Laura Bush, both prominent literacy advocates, were members of the Junior Leagues of Houston and Dallas, respectively.
Substance abuse prevention pioneer Betty Ford was a member of Junior League of Grand Rapids, and drug abuse prevention advocate Nancy Reagan was a member of Junior League of Los Angeles.
15. Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a past president of the Junior League of Phoenix, became the first woman on the Supreme Court when she was sworn in January 1981 under President Reagan. Subsequent women on the court include Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.
16. The first Commanding Officer of the WWII Women’s Army Corps, Oveta Culp Hobby, was also a Junior League of Houston member.
17. The bill establishing a National Women’s History Museum was drafted by U.S. Representative and Junior League of the City of New York member Carolyn Maloney.
18. The Junior League of Toledo is credited for producing a documentary that led to the passage of local clean water laws in Ohio.
19. Junior League of Austin member Carole Keeton Strayhorn was the first woman mayor of Austin, Texas.
20. Child actress, United Nations delegate and United States Ambassador Shirley Temple Black also counts membership in the Junior League of Palo Alto as a credential.
21. Junior League members currently in congressional seats include:
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) – Junior League of Palo Alto
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) – Junior League of City of New York
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) – Junior League of Sacramento
Rep. Carol D. Miller (R-WV) – Junior League of Huntington
Womanhood is definitely something to celebrate, so let’s honor the strong women who have gone before and raise up those strong women that will come after. Have an awesome Women’s History Month!