Women’s History Month, which is celebrated in the United States during March every year, is a unique time to honor women’s contributions to American history. It’s also a time to acknowledge the hard work, strength, and perseverance of women who have changed the world, from well-known historical figures like Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks to modern-day changemakers like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg. From political activism and standing up to injustice to fighting for equal rights, women trailblazers have shaped our society and it’s because of their advocacy that we have the opportunity to make our voices heard.
We where we are today because brave women before us decided to rise up and advocate for change. Women’s History Month is now celebrated in a variety of ways, from virtual events and movie screenings to educational initiatives, public demonstrations, women-focused awards ceremonies, and more. And while there are many ways to celebrate and stay informed during this special month, it’s important to recognize women’s contributions and honor their triumphs all year round.
Here’s what you need to know about Women’s History Month, where it originated, and how you can celebrate in 2022.
The first official Women’s History Month was born out of a 1978 “Women’s Week” celebration in California.
According to Time, the first-ever “Women’s Day” was celebrated on Feb. 28, 1909 in New York City. The day originally served as an honorary tribute to the thousands of women who marched in the garment worker’s strikes, which had taken place just a year earlier. Time reports that just two years later, Women’s Day became an international observance as it spread quickly throughout Europe. The United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day in 1977, and according to the UN website, served as a “rallying point to build support for women’s rights.”
A year later in 1978, the move toward Women’s History Month in America was sparked thanks to a California school district, who reportedly wanted to change the narrative about women’s contributions to American history. In response, they planned a weeklong commemoration that involved school presentations, student essay contests, and local parades. People across the Sonoma County area and Santa Rosa area participated in the weeklong festivities, and as the idea gained popularity in other parts of the U.S., the celebration would eventually grow into a national movement.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation to make March 2-8 “National Women’s History Week.” By 1986, 14 states had already proclaimed March as “Women’s History Month,” and in 1987, Congress passed Public Law 100-9 which officially designated March as the celebration we know today.
Both National Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day have special “themes.”
Every year, the National Women’s History Alliance publishes an annual theme for the month of March. For example, in 2021, the theme was “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced,” which expanded on 2020’s theme of celebrating “100 years of Women’s Suffrage.” The 2022 Women’s History Month theme is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.”
The National Women’s History Alliance reports: “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” is both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.”
There are also unique themes given to International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8 each year. According to the official International Women’s Day website, the 2022 theme is called #BreakTheBias, a movement that encourages a gender-equal world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. The intention is to inspire people to “break the bias” in their communities, workplaces, schools, colleges, universities, and beyond.
How is Women’s History Month celebrated?
Although March certainly isn’t the only time to celebrate women’s passion, drive, and significant contributions to U.S. history, there are many ways to acknowledge this special month. It could be as simple as queuing up a few women-led TV shows on Netflix, rocking some feminist apparel, or learning about powerful women-led communities. You can also attend virtual or in-person Women’s History Month events or simply carve out a few minutes to learn about the incredible women who are changing the world today.
Women’s History Month is all about powerful women, and remembering how they’ve made a difference can inspire us to do the same. When you celebrate Women’s History Month 2022, I hope you feel motivated to pursue your future with new determination and outlook. In the words of Maya Angelou, “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and ‘she-roes’!”
Editor’s note: Originally published in March 2021. Additional reporting by Tianna Soto.