History was written by men — literally and figuratively. Over the decades women have been oppressed and persecuted through legislation and social norms.
While woman have constantly fought for freedom and equal rights — like the suffragette movement in the 1920s and the feminist marches of the 1970s — men have controlled the story since the beginning.
“Every month is men’s history month,” said Dr. Annette Parks, a professor in the History Department. “Women’s history has sort of been tacked on at the end.”
Originally designated as Women’s History Week beginning on March 7, overlapping with International Women’s Day on March 8, Women’s History Month started in 1987 after petitions by the National Women’s History Project.
While it began as a time to address important women’s rights issues, Women’s History Month has largely become a corporate holiday filled with pink social media posts and ironic “nasty woman” apparel.
Parks said that while celebrating women during March is important, the month’s activism roots must not be discarded.
“It has gone from this radical thing for rights to a corporate happy, touchy-feely day,” she said. “It’s all pleasant and non-confrontational. You would never guess the kind of issues that sit behind it because it’s become sanitized.”
Many citizens, including some feminists, believe that the battle for women’s rights is over now. They believe that we live in a more free and equal society than before. But, the current political climate is full of negative opinions and threats to women’s basic rights.
A 2018 study published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that a total of 87,000 women were intentionally killed and 58 percent were murdered by intimate partners or family members. Additionally, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence stated that one in five women compared to one in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime.
Parks said equal pay acts have been circulating in the government since 1963, but women still don’t have equal pay — an issue broken down even further when considering race.
“Women’s history month stands as a reminder that it’s not over,” Parks said. “We can’t just get the rights and be done with it.”
Even celebrating women’s history month, people barley see the tip of the iceberg. How many influential women from history can you name? Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinman? Maybe Aretha Franklin?
Whether you can name two or 10, the number of women is a lot less than men in terms of the big movers and shakers of history. Combined with activism and celebration, remembrance and awareness must be included as a key factor in Women’s History Month.
Parks said without knowing or understanding the women’s stories behind some of history’s greatest moments, such as landing on the moon, our view of history and Women’s History Month will never be complete or beneficial.
“Let’s celebrate what we’ve done before and recover women lost to history, but at the same time understand it is our job to push forward as well,” she said.
DNA determines our appearance, our traits and even our health. But modern knowledge of DNA would not exist without British biophysicist and x-ray crystallographer, Rosalind Franklin.
Born in 1920, Franklin is known for her x-ray diffraction work in the early 1950s at King’s College London. Except — until many years later — Franklin wasn’t credited for the work at all.
Franklin worked with physicist Maurice Wilkins who had originally started x-ray crystallographic techniques when she joined his project. That same year scientists James Watson and Francis Crick were developing a theory about the molecular structure of DNA.
Using x-rays, Franklin managed to capture photographs of DNA’s structure, revealing the double-helix we know today. She shared her findings with Wilkins, who ultimately showed them to Watson and Crick without her knowledge.
In 1953, Crick and Watson published their double-helix structure discovery, which relied heavily on Franklin’s x-ray for evidence and models. The scientific community applauded Watson and Crick’s discoveries, with Franklin’s name not being included in the conversation.
As a result of her work with x-rays, Franklin died from ovarian cancer complications in 1958. Watson, Crick and Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of DNA’s structure in 1962.
Many people think of leprosy as an ancient biblical disease, but the ailment remained a medical issue well into the 20th century. Also called, Hansen’s disease, leprosy was a brutal skin condition that went largely untreated until a chemistry professor at the College of Hawaii, now University of Hawaii, discovered a revolutionary treatment.
Alice Ball’s discovery of a leprosy vaccine that minimized side effects and lessened patient’s pain would be used for more than two decades, significantly contributing to the decline of the condition.
Born in Seattle, Washington in 1892, Ball died at the age of 24 from chlorine poisoning. Ball was never able to publish her findings and her work was stolen by the college president, Arthur L. Dean, who released the vaccine all over the world.
Within the last 20 years, Ball, an African American woman, has received long-overdue credit for the treatment, now referred to as the “Ball Method.” The University of Hawaii placed a dedication plaque under its only chaulmoogra — the root of the oil used in her treatment —tree and posthumously presented her with the Medal of Distinction.
The Manhattan Project, a research and development initiative to create the first nuclear bombs during World War Two, is historically known as a male dominated undertaking, but Chinese-American scientists, Chien-Shiung Wu, played a significant role in the project.
Born in Shanghai in 1912, Wu joined the Manhattan Project at the Substitute Alloy Materials Lab at Columbia University. Her work largely focused on radiation detectors and she is best known for identifying and fixing dangerous problems in many of the key reactors.
After the war, Wu continued her career in nuclear science. She was the first scientist to confirm Enrico Fermi’s theory of beta decay, which occurs when the nucleus of one element changes into another element.
Also the first woman to serve as president of the American Physical Society, Wu has been awarded the National Medal of Science and the first honorary doctorate to a woman at Princeton University.
The Stonewall Riots, one of the most famous events in the gay rights movement, are believed to have started after transgender women and activists, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera reacted to unfair treatment from local Police who were raiding the Stonewall Inn in New York City.
Both well-known transgender activists, both women are finally getting recognized for their activism with monuments across from the Stonewall Inn. Johnson, a black woman, and Rivera, a Latina woman, fought hard for their community and their achievements in a movement dominated by white gay men.
Johnson and Rivera met as children in New York City and remained friends throughout their lives. Together they founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, which provided young LGBTQ+ people support after being shunned by their families.
While their actions are hailed as heroic in today’s world, both women were targets of sexism, racism and homophobia in their day. Johnson died in 1992; her body was pulled from the Hudson River. While her death was ruled a suicide, many, including Rivera, question the authorities’ determination.
Rivera lived at a shelter for transgender people in Brooklyn until she died of liver cancer in 2002.
Along with Representative Rashida Tlaib, Representative Ilhan Omar was the first Muslim woman to be inducted into Congress. Elected in 2018, Omar faces daily battles for her peers and citizens alike to recognize her contributions and qualifications.
The first Somali-American in Congress, Omar represents Minnesota’s firth district. She made history in 2016 when she became the first Somali-American elected to the Minnesota State legislature.
Despite carrying the weight of being first in so many positions, Omar displayed confidence and skill throughout all of her campaigns. Since winning her election and fighting for legislation and representation for many minority groups, Omar has become somewhat of a pop-culture sensation.
She has 1.9 million followers on Twitter and appeared in the music video for Maroon 5’s hit, “Girls Like You” in 2017. Still early in her life and career, Omar’s supporters continuing to increase and look forward to seeing her list of firsts grow.