History will long remember 2021 for many reasons, not the least is the sound of the glass ceiling starting to shatter. With the swearing-in of Kamala Harris as vice president of the United States, the role of women in politics, as in other fields, is bigger than ever.
Additionally, women make up just over a quarter of all members of the 117th Congress -- the highest percentage in U.S. history and a considerable increase from where things stood even a decade ago, according to Pew Research. Counting both the House of Representatives and the Senate, 144 of 539 seats -- or 27% -- are held by women. That represents a 50% increase from the 96 women who were serving in the 112th Congress a decade ago, though it remains far below the female portion of the overall U.S. population.
March is Women’s History Month, which originated as a national celebration in 1981, when Congress requested that the president proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as Women’s History Week. These proclamations 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.
Women have played a pivotal role in our national development, and it’s amazing to me, as a student of history, that we haven’t heard more of their stories.
In the 19th century, Elizabeth Blackwell was rejected by 29 medical schools. When she went to visit the schools in person, she was told she should pretend to be a man, because women weren’t fit to receive medical schooling. She refused.
The dean and faculty of Hobart College (then Geneva Medical College) put her candidacy up for a vote with the 150 men currently enrolled. The school decided that if even one person objected, Blackwell would be denied admission. The 150 men thought the vote was a joke and unanimously voted to accept her.
The joke was on them. Blackwell was accepted, and she matriculated. Many doctors refused to work with her, but she persevered and graduated.
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849. She then built a medical practice, created a place where women could have medical internships (since many health care facilities didn’t welcome women), served impoverished families, and established the first medical college for women.
How much do you know about women in history? Take this quiz and learn something about the role of five extraordinary women:
Question: Which mother led a 125-mile march of child workers from the mills of Pennsylvania to President Theodore Roosevelt’s vacation home on Long Island?
Answer: Mary Harris Jones, who became known as “Mother Jones” and led the march in 1903 to call attention to the evils of child labor.
Question: What did Dolores Huerta do for farm workers in the United States?
Answer: Dolores Huerta, a labor activist, co-founded the United Farm Workers Union in 1962 and served for more than 20 years as its vice president, chief lobbyist, spokeswoman and labor contract negotiator.
Question: Which Asian-American physicist disproved a fundamental scientific law?
Answer: Chien-Shiung Wu came to the United States to study science and became the world’s foremost female experimental physicist. Her most famous experiment showed that the principle of conservation of parity could be violated in nature.
Question: Who led the movement to improve conditions for poor immigrants?
Answer: Jane Addams co-founded Hull House in Chicago in 1889, which sought to improve the lives of immigrants by providing English classes, childcare, health education and recreation. Addams won the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize for her dedication to the cause of international peace.
Question: Her 1939 Easter Sunday concert drew a crowd of 75,000 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Who was she?
Answer: Marian Anderson had earlier been barred from singing in Washington’s Constitution Hall because she was Black. Her open-air concert was a triumph over bigotry.
Women entrepreneurs today are multiplying two, three, four times faster than men, depending on which part of the country that you study. Women now represent 40% of all business travelers.
These are just a few examples of women’s achievements. Let’s hope history can keep up!
Mackay’s Moral: Borrowed from Juliette Gordon Low -- “The work of today is the history of tomorrow, and we are its makers.”