How “Women’s History Week” Became “Women’s History Month”

In America, we celebrate women's incredible contributions to our nation's history throughout the month of March. But the celebration began as a single day, before women's interest groups helped build it up to a full month.

Today, it can seem like just about everything has a “day” to celebrate it, a day where tributes to that thing pop up all over social media: boyfriends, girlfriends, siblings, pets, margaritas. But there are a couple of larger, more meaningful causes that have an entire month dedicated to them—and have existed long before the advent of social media. February, of course, is Black History Month—and here’s why it shouldn’t just be a single month. And March 1 marks the start of Women’s History Month.

But it wasn’t always that way. Despite being celebrated over an entire month nowadays, for a long time women’s history did, also, have only a single day.

International Women’s Day existed long before “days” were even a thing. The first International Women’s Day was held in March of 1911, with more than a million people celebrating around the world. In 1975, the United Nations officially recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day.

In the United States, women started advocating for an official week-long commemoration of women’s history. In particular, female educators and activists were frustrated by the almost complete absence of women’s stories in history textbooks and school curricula. In 1978, educators in California began an annual week-long movement to change this, lining up with International Women’s Day.

The movement spread, and eventually, the National Women’s History Project brought it to the attention of President Jimmy Carter. In 1980, he issued a proclamation making the week of March 2 to March 8, 1980, Women’s History Week. A Congressional resolution followed in 1981. “Men and women have worked together to build this nation,” wrote President Carter in his proclamation. “Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed.” For instance, take these 16 amazing women you didn’t learn about in history class.

From 1982 through 1986, President Reagan issued an annual proclamation designating that week every year. But the movement had grown bigger than a week. By 1986, a full 14 states recognized March as Women’s History Month. Black History Month had also begun as a week, and many colleges and organizations began observing a full month, leading President Gerald Ford to recognize Black History Month in 1976.

So the National Women’s History Project, with other women and organizations, continued lobbying Congress to declare the month that many were already observing “official.” And in March 1987, that’s exactly what happened. Public Law 100-9 made March Women’s History Month, and it remains to this day. Every year, throughout March, we celebrate women’s incredible contributions to history and anticipate how women can and will continue to change the world in the future.

Each year, Women’s History Month has a different theme. Past themes have included “Nevertheless, She Persisted” and “Women’s Education—Women’s Empowerment.” In 2020, the theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote,” celebrating the hundredth anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in America. The momentous passage of the 19th Amendment was one of many major moments that changed women’s history forever that are worth celebrating this month.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.