National Women's History Month Publications and Women's Studies

 

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DEVELOPMENT OF NATIONAL WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH

By Bernice Colvard, LWVFA Historian The seed that developed into National Women's History Month began with the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as U.S. President in 196l. The country was invigorated. All things seemed possible. Dormant since the Great Depression, the women's movement revived in the 1960s and 70s. The spark was politically motivated. President John F. Kennedy, not at all committed to promoting women's rights, was very dependent on their volunteer efforts and votes. In 1961, he appointed a Commission on the Status of Women, at the urging of the ranking woman in his administration, Esther Peterson. As assistant secretary of labor and director of the Women's Bureau, Peterson's intent was: First, to deflect any pro-equal rights amendment (ERA) activities then still opposed by organized labor; second, laws to guarantee equal pay for equal work. Eleanor Roosevelt and Esther Peterson headed the commission composed of many prominent women, consultants, and Women's Bureau staff. Their 60-page report attracted little attention but did result in passage of the first federal law prohibiting sex discrimination, the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

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Virginia Women’s Legacies

From its start as a colony, Virginia's women have left their mark. Their legacies to us began with survival in the wilderness and continue with today's achievements.

The first marriage in English continental America took place in 1608 in Jamestown when lady's maid Anne Burrass, 14, wed carpenter John Laydon, 24. They would have four daughters and prosper in the new colony.

Lured by cheap and plentiful land, German-born Anna Maria Merckle Hite with husband Jost moved to the northern Shenandoah Valley in 1732. That same year, Quaker Ann Robinson Hollingsworth and her husband Abraham began settling what is now Winchester. Migration to Virginia's Great Valley was encouraged to create a barrier between the Indians and the English settled to the east.

Captured by Indians in 1755, Mary Draper Ingles walked hundreds of miles through wilderness from the Ohio Valley to her home in what is now Blacksburg.

Virginia's first chartered woman's college was Hollins in Roanoke in 1842. The state's first female college president, Matty Cocke, took the helm 59 years later in 1901.

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The Impact of Women in Public Office

While this study focuses on the impact of women in public office, a related topic of equal interest is the challenge to women of attaining public office, especially at the higher levels of government. In the past decade great strides have been made in this effort, with an increasing percentage of women legislators in Congress, governorships, and state legislatures. That is not to say that parity has been reached in reflecting the gender balance in the general population, but progress is being made. Perhaps this reflects an attitudinal change in the respect that voters have for the ability of women to legislate and to reflect their opinions and values. Perhaps it reflects the growing role that women are playing in the corporate world. The answers lie in the minds of the voters. But we do know that increasing numbers of women are being elected and are making an imprint on the legislative process. 

A nationwide survey conducted by the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University in 1988 addressed how women officeholders, compared with their male colleagues, were reshaping the public policy agenda. The results found that women public officials have different policy priorities and are more likely to give priority to women’s rights policies as they relate to the family and society; they are more active on women’s rights legislation, whether or not it is their top priority; and they are more feminist and more liberal in their attitudes on major public policy issues. Also, they are more likely to bring citizens into the process, they are more likely to opt for government in public view rather than government behind closed doors, and they are more responsive to groups previously denied full access to the policymaking process.

My single greatest accomplishment, and I mean this
quite sincerely, is representing hundreds, thousands
of heretofore nameless, faceless, voiceless people.
The letters I enjoy most are from those who write and
say, “For the first time I feel there is somebody talking
for me.”
— Barbara Jordan (TX), former Congresswoman