Remembering the Women of History

By Van Howe, Annette | The Humanist, September-October 1996 | Go to article overview

Remembering the Women of History


Van Howe, Annette, The Humanist


History books have traditionally been written by men, about actions which are important to men, and about men and their accomplishments.

Women, their contributions, and their lives have been ignored.

Boys and girls who go to school in the United States are taught almost exclusively about the actions of men in wars, politics, and the economy.

The results of a 1979 survey by the National Organization for Women, published in the January 1980 issue of NOW National Times, reveal that, for every 700 pages about men in U.S. history texts, only 14 pages are about women. The omission of women in history affects the education of all children--girls and boys--as well as human relationships. It demeans girls and perpetuates discrimination.

Throughout history, women lived their lives alongside men. What women could and could not accomplish largely depended upon their relationships with men. "The zeal of masculine historians," author Elizabeth Gould Davis charged, "in destroying the memories of great women has rendered the pursuit of feminine historical research extremely difficult . . . yet the role of women in molding history and their influence on the events that have shaped men's destiny are incalculable."

June Stephenson, the author of Women's Roots, said that every women historian concludes her work by looking to the lessons of history in an attempt to understand the present. She wrote Women's Roots because she could not find material in one place for a class she was teaching on the history of women. So she researched the material and wrote a book that portrays "women's status and their contributions to the development of Western civilization to the present." Stephenson said that nothing in the book is new because it draws from scholarly books which have been written over the years.

She found, at the end of each semester, that both highschool boys and girls expressed amazement about how much they had learned concerning women's struggles and achievements.

Dr. Stephenson expresses my beliefs: because if women know their past, they will know why and what still needs to be accomplished. Unless we know our past, we will have no future.

We hope that someday we won't need a Women's History Month to underscore women's roles and accomplishments. It would be nice to see all our needs met and all history integrated; then we wouldn't need months designating attention to any individual group. If we did a better job of teaching women's contributions all year long, we wouldn't have to set aside a month to honor them.

The Women's History Coalition, which I founded in 1968, aims to educate the public about women's positive roles through speakers, films, quizzes, quarterly newsletters, videos, plays, posters, exhibits, and oral histories of outstanding women. We have 45 member organizations, including seven county government agencies and three institutions of higher learning. With their cosponsorship during Women's History Month, we coordinate the Broward County Women's Hall of Fame in Florida. It has truly brought recognition to women achievers.

With the Broward County Library, we have put out 7,000 copies of a community calendar that lists women's programs during March for Women's History Month. A 1996 video called Broward County Women of Influence highlights our coalition activities and the Broward County Women's Hall of Fame. Extensive publicity and editorials commending the Women's Hall of Fame have run in our local papers.

On a personal note, I have found Susan B. Anthony to be a role model because of her consistent fight for women's equality. In addition to being a suffragist, she was a union organizer, an ardent abolitionist, a strong advocate for equal pay, for the emancipation of women through economic power, for civil rights, and for equality of blacks and whites. Her agenda was revolutionary for her times.

Following the Civil War, Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass debated passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. …

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