Women’s History Month: Celebrating Those Who Paved The Way for Us

by | Feb 28, 2024 | Business

March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the contributions that came from women in our past. The celebration began as a “Women’s History Week” in 1978– a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The following year, the movement quickly spread, ultimately resulting in a consortium of women’s groups successfully lobbying for national recognition in 1980. This week was celebrated until 1987, when Congress passed Public Law 100-9, making the entire month of March “Women’s History Month.”

The United States’ history is rich with women who have shown astounding achievements, accomplishments, and discoveries. This month is a time to acknowledge the struggles they faced, the successes they had, and the fire their legacy has instilled in women today. 

Appearances May Be Misleading

Since 1776, numerous Americans have made names for themselves as important historical figures. Unfortunately, some of these individuals do not deserve the notoriety tied to their names. A few of these people are:

  • Charles Darrow – The first board-game millionaire and a symbol of the American dream
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – Renowned American novelist and essayist
  • Wright Brothers – Aviation pioneers
  • John Mauchly & JP Eckert- Credited with creating the first general-purpose electronic computer
  • James Watson – Discovered the double helix shape of DNA 

Each of these individuals has their names firmly planted in history as influential Americans, but the whole story regarding their success has been suppressed. For each of the above accomplishments, a contributing woman’s name was almost lost to history. In order:

  • Elizabeth Magie

Thirty years before Charles Darrow pitched a game to the Parker Brothers, Elizabeth Magie created “The Landlord’s Game.” Darrow pitched a remarkably similar game to the Parker Brothers after seeing it played by some of her friends. As the game’s inventor, Magie only earned $500 for her gaming genius, compared to the millions earned by Darrow. 

  • Zelda Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald is most commonly known for writing The Great Gatsby, but it is less known that he relied heavily on plagiarized content from his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald. Zelda, a prolific writer herself, stated that The Beautiful and Damned contained portions from an old diary and letters she had written. After Zelda had written her own book, Save Me the Waltz, Scott demanded that she remove portions of the work that he planned to use in his own novel. Scott then joined in the negative criticism she received for her novel. 

  • Katharine Wright Haskell

The Wright Brothers accomplished a great feat by inventing their flying machine and contributing greatly to aviation, but their success could not have happened without their sister Katharine. Even Orville is quoted as saying, “When the world speaks of the Wrights, it must include our sister.” Her contribution to their success was denied and erased by Orville, however, when he felt betrayed by her choice to get married.

  • Jean Bartik, Marlyn Meltzer, Ruth Teitelbaum, Kathleen Antonelli, Frances Spence, and Betty Holberton

Though John Mauchly and JP Eckert are credited with building the first general-purpose electronic computer, these six women programmed the computer. They stepped up due to a lack of male engineers during World War II. Without their contributions, the computer would have failed to work as intended. These women were largely unknown, even being left out of photo captions, until Kathy Kleiman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers tracked them all down. 

  • Rosalind Franklin

James Watson and Francis Crick won a Nobel Prize for discovering that DNA molecules exist in a double-helix polymer, but British scientist Rosalind Franklin’s contributions are often left out of this crucial discovery. Watson and Crick used her Photograph 51, without permission, to build their DNA theory and only acknowledged her contribution in a belated and understated way. Franklin should be recognized as an equal contributor to this monumental discovery. 

The Matilda Effect

The scenario of a woman’s hard work being taken and claimed by a man as his own is far from being uncommon throughout history. It is, in fact, common enough that there is a name for it: the Matilda Effect

The phenomenon is named after Matilda Joslyn Gage, an American suffragette, sociologist, and activist. She wrote a pamphlet in 1870 that heavily condemned the idea that women lacked scientific talent and inventive drive, claiming such statements are made “lightly or ignorantly.” 

After reading this pamphlet, Margaret Rossiter wrote an essay titled The Matilda Effect in Science. In it, she described Lise Meitner not being mentioned in the Nobel Prize earned by Otto Hahn for their combined work in discovering nuclear fission. Rossiter termed this phenomenon “the Matilda Effect” in this essay. Women in STEM are especially likely to experience this issue, as shown by the vast number of STEM Nobel Prizes that were only named to men. 

Breaking the Chains

This lack of acknowledgment has been rampant throughout history. Women struggled to be taken seriously in working fields, as men belittled their contributions and claimed their efforts as their own. Even American laws were written to prevent women from having autonomy and control over their lives. For example:

  • Owning Property

In the late 1700s, some states had given women the right to have some say in how their husbands managed property, but they could not own it themselves. Through the following years, some states gave women more rights over property, but it was not until New York’s passing of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1848 and the Act Concerning the Rights and Liabilities of Husband and Wife in 1860 that these rights were dramatically expanded. By 1900, every state had followed New York’s example and given women substantial control over their property. 

  • Opening Bank Accounts

Though women technically had the right to open a bank account in the 1960s, many banks refused to let them open an account without a signature from a man. It wasn’t until the passing of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 that women were given the right to open a bank account without a man’s signature. Banks were prohibited from discriminating against applicants based on features like sex, marital status, age, religion, national origin, or race. 

  • No-Fault Divorce

A no-fault divorce allows an individual to end their marriage without proving fault and without the approval of the other spouse. Though no-fault divorce was established in California in 1969, it was not until 2010 that all states allowed this option. Prior to this type of divorce being legalized, a woman being abused or exploited by their spouse had few options to escape, as proving fault was incredibly difficult. The process became even more difficult if the husband did not want the divorce. 

  • Business Ownership

The Woman’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 allowed women to be entrepreneurs by eliminating many of the barriers in place at the time. Women were no longer required to have a male relative’s signature for a business bank loan. Women’s Business Centers were also established by the Act and provided technical assistance and mentorship to women. This law is especially important to Better Content Matters, as we are a woman-owned and managed business.

Scores of women dedicated thousands of hours to pushing for legal reforms to help women succeed in America. Prior to the aforementioned legal changes, women in America were often treated as less than men and stuck in a position that was not of their choosing. American women are still fighting for their rights against those who would see them taken away, but the success of the past is helping us create a better future. 

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

As we make progress, it is important to understand that many of these advancements for women throughout history were focused on white women. Even many popular women’s rights activists, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, vehemently opposed African Americans, Indigenous Americans, or other non-white individuals gaining the right to vote. Almost any progress made for women’s rights in the 18th and early 19th centuries focused specifically on white women. 

The 2024 Women’s History Month’s theme, “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” acknowledges this disparity throughout our history. Though advancements have come from the work of biased women like Anthony and Stanton, our history is also rich with women who understood that all women are worthy of advancement in society. Some of these women include:

  • Lucretia Mott

Mott was a Quaker abolitionist and a devout proponent of women’s and civil rights. Since women were not allowed entry into anti-slavery organizations, she formed her own abolitionist societies. 

  • Sojourner Truth

An African-American abolitionist, Truth dedicated her life to gender equality. Often regarded as one of the most famous women’s rights and abolitionist speeches, “Ain’t I a Woman,” is still popular today. 

  • Audre Lorde

A prominent feminist, revolutionary, and poet, Lorde has promoted diversity and inclusivity within the feminist movement. As a black, disabled, queer woman, she has unique perspectives in her works and the feminist movement. 

  • Dr. Michele Harper

A New York Times bestseller and emergency room physician, Dr. Harper lectures on the importance of dismantling bigotry throughout the medical profession on both an individual and a structural level. 

  • Cat Bohannon

A researcher in the evolution of cognition and narrative, Bohannon speaks on why neurobiology, evolutionary biology, modern medicine, and feminism are all undermined when the discussions do not include the female body. 

  • Emily Ladau

Ladau is an author and disability rights activist who empowers audiences to participate in informed and thoughtful allyship, break patterns of discrimination, and recognize ableism.

Though each of these women has made a lasting impact on our history, they are far from the only women whose actions have shaped our country for the better. Numerous women have had an impact on our nation, some of whose names have been lost to history. 

Current and Ongoing Fights

Past women fought hard for the rights we have today, but the fight is far from over. Issues that women still face today include:

  • Violence against women
  • Underrepresentation of women in leadership positions
  • Pay gap and other workplace inequalities
  • LGBTQ+ rights
  • Racial injustice

Unfortunately, women in America may be feeling hopeless due to the current setbacks. It’s important to remember that our history is full of women who successfully opposed restrictions imposed by others, and the same is still true today. Current women are just as strong and capable, fighting with equal diligence against those who would limit our potential. 

Recognizing Women With Better Content Matters

As a woman-owned company, Women’s History Month is incredibly important to Better Content Matters. We want to help other woman-owned businesses succeed by crafting quality written content that targets their consumer base. We can also aid those who want to communicate to their audience that they value equity, diversity, and inclusion. When you are ready to elevate the written content on your website or social media, our women-led team can help you reach that goal. 

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Nicole Enochs