March is Women’s History Month, a nationwide celebration that dates back to 1981.
Congress passed a public law requesting that the president — at the time, Ronald Reagan — enact a Women’s History Week beginning on March 7, 1982. The week was later stretched into a month starting in 1987, after Congress was successfully petitioned by the National Women’s History Project to do so.
Since 1995, each president has issued a proclamation declaring March to be recognized as Women’s History Month in order to “celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields,” according to the Library of Congress’ website.
In his own proclamation on Monday, President Joe Biden said the month offers a special opportunity to "shine a light on the extraordinary legacy of trailblazing American women and girls who have built, shaped, and improved upon our Nation."
"...Let us honor the accomplished and visionary women who have helped build our country, including those whose contributions have not been adequately recognized and celebrated," Biden's statement continued. "And let us pay tribute to the trailblazers from the recent and distant past for daring to envision a future for which no past precedent existed, and for building a Nation of endless possibilities for all of its women and girls."
The president called on all Americans not only to observe the month, but to celebrate International Women's Day — which takes place on March 8 — with "appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities."
The month is usually celebrated with parades, speeches, panels, and other in-person gatherings; due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Library of Congress has partnered with the Smithsonian museums, the National Archives, the National Parks Service, and more to ensure a socially-distant month of educational events.
Here are some ways for you to virtually participate in Women’s History Month:
The Smithsonian often holds online courses for those interested in art history, with some programming in March centered on Women’s History Month.
One such course is this Wednesday’s virtual class hosted by art historian Natasha Schlesinger, who plans to explore the female muses of some of the world’s most famous male artists.
“Schlesinger delves into some of the significant paintings of these subjects, as well as their stories and complex and intimate relationships with the artists,” the event’s website reads. “If impressionism reflected on the “now” of a new society and dawning century, its muses were the creative — and often unrecognized — forces behind the important innovators of the period.”
The class is $20 for members, and $25 for non-members.
With most museums still closed to the public in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the National Parks Service is hosting a month-long, virtual exhibit that aims to honor the “centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment in Congress.”
The 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was passed on June 4th, 1919.
The exhibit itself will be housed in the Federal Hall National Memorial, and will feature 44 women across 10 decades, as well as a timeline of the women's suffrage movement. No reservation or payment is required.
For those with a theatrical flair hoping to learn about key players in the Women’s Rights movement, the National Archives has the perfect event prepared.
On March 18, the National Archives’ Young Learners Program will offer kids and their parents the opportunity to virtually meet suffragette Alice Paul — or at least, the live-action version played by actor Taylor Williams of the American Historical Theatre.
Interested viewers can head to YouTube for a meet-and-greet with “Paul,” a “suffragist, founder of the National Women’s Party, and promoter of the Equal Rights Amendment.” There will be a question-and-answer portion following a performance.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will host a Women’s History Month event on March 18 to share the true story of Sara Guralnik, a young Jewish woman from Poland who survived the Holocaust.
The museum will host a live conversation about the movie “My Name is Sara,” based on Guralnik’s life, in partnership with Guralnik’s own son and granddaughter. The conversation will touch on “the strength and determination of one young woman to survive the Holocaust and the challenges that women faced then—and still encounter today in war-torn societies,” per the event website.
The discussion will be moderated by Ann Hornaday, a film critic for The Washington Post. Registration for the event and an advance screening of the movie are free.
For those who want to make a more concrete contribution during Women’s History Month, there are multiple ways to aid female-owned businesses. The support is especially meaningful amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted women — particularly those in minority groups — and forced them from the workforce in startling numbers.
A recent study by consulting firm McKinsey & Company suggests that women account for nearly 56% of workforce exits since the start of the pandemic, despite only making up approximately 48% of the overall workforce. A separate study conducted by Pew Research between February and August of last year found that mothers of children 12 years old and younger were three times as likely to lose work than fathers of children the same age.
While women in the workforce were severely impacted by COVID-19, it wasn’t all bad news for female-owned businesses. According to a survey conducted by Yelp, interest in women-owned businesses on its platform increased by 2,739% in 2020 compared to 2019; review mentions of female businesses were up 76% during the same time period.
In honor of Women’s History Month, the company is highlighting some of its top female-owned businesses across numerous industries in order to further increase traffic to their sites.
“We recognize that consumers want to champion businesses that align with their values and spend their hard earned money with businesses they care about, like women-owned businesses,” a statement from the company reads in part. We’re celebrating Women’s History Month this March by sharing a list of standout female-owned businesses on our platform.”
The featured companies range from places like Chillhouse, a nail salon in New York City founded by Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton, to Marissa’s Books, a Salt Lake City-based bookstore run by three generations of the Dumas family.
Another major company influenced by the loss of women in the workforce is deodorant brand Secret. Senior Brand Director Sara Saunders said the abysmal December jobs report, which showed that the vast majority of workforce exits that month belonged to women, was a “breaking point” for the company.
And so Secret opted to launch a new docuseries “Secret Superhero Moms,” a three-part series highlighting women who experienced financial hardship amid the coronavirus pandemic. In coordination with the series, the company is donating $1 million for “childcare, workforce development and barrier reduction programs” across the YWCA national network.
"As a result of the pandemic, women — especially women of color — have been forced to scale back or leave their jobs, further exacerbating existing economic and racial disparities,” Saunders wrote in a statement. “Through our partnership with YWCA, we are creating tangible solutions and a meaningful impact by supporting their mission in providing essential childcare resources.”