Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women Who Shaped History

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women Who Shaped History

Article excerpt

The latest target of opportunity in the arsenic-dart war between liberals and conservatives is this question: Do women's studies programs continue to be necessary?

Spawned during the social upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s, women's studies departments were originally seen as esteem-builders.

But they quickly took hold and blossomed into a growth industry, producing scores of tomes, hundreds of conferences and offering employment to professors and researchers at more than 600 colleges.

Conservatives - and even a few moderates - now castigate women's studies departments as outdated and unnecessary. They blame them for the "ghettoization" of influential women in history. On the theory that "we are all now equal, and you people complaining about women's inequality ought to get with the program," they argue that women's accomplishments should be incorporated into general history and literature classes, not singled out for exclusion or separate treatment.

This theory has merit, except for one flaw. Women's accomplishments are still largely excluded from textbooks and college curriculums. As proof of this, I offer knowledge gleaned on a recent voyage to Egypt.

While touring the pharaoh's temples at Karnak, I discovered the existence of Hatshepsut, a woman pharaoh, who ruled Upper and Lower Egypt between 1503 and 1482 B.C. She is usually depicted in temple art as a man, and some historians say she had to disguise herself as a male in order to maintain power. But under her reign, art and architecture flourished, and the Egyptians opened new trade routes to the East.

s I headed straight for the Library of Congress to drink in a self-taught crash course on women leaders in ancient civilization. I quickly discovered there were others. Consider Semiramis, the queen of Assyria and builder (not founder) of Babylon. She ruled Assyria for 42 years around 1200 B.C.

She came to power via her husband, King Ninus. But when he died, she maintained power and traversed all parts of the Assyrian empire, building great cities, including Babylon, and stupendous monuments (including Babylon's Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World) and opening roads through savage mountains. …

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