Every March is known as Women’s History Month, where we recognize the accomplishments and contributions women have made to society on a local, national or global level. Often times, women’s accomplishments have gone either unnoticed or overshadowed by men due to the long history of the patriarchal society that the nation was founded under.

What is Women’s History Month and origin?

Women’s History Month (WHM) goes back from the late 1980s or early 1990s, according to Karin Zipf, a women’s history professor at East Carolina University. It originated around International Women’s Day (IWD) which is celebrated on March 8 and has been around since 1910.

The observance originated in the United States revolving around the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York on March 25, 1911. The shirtwaist factory employed hundreds of female textile workers, many of them from eastern European descent. The working conditions were terrible.

“It was horrifying because it was like the 1911 version of 9/11,” Zipf said. “You had 146 women who died, many of them by jumping out of the windows of the building because they were so terrified, they decided that’s how they wanted to die instead of burning up like the women around them draped over the sewing machines they were working on. It just burned up.”

The women were not able to escape the building due to the employer locking all of the exits. Zipf stated that there were bodies found piled up by the exit doors and the elevators collapsed with bodies inside. The fire and the outpouring of grief and anger which resulted from it motivated the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which was founded in 1900, to protest and change the laws. This was the start of the many progressive actions in the United States.

Many labor organizations in the United States began to commemorate and recognize March 8 as IWD and other socialist and communist countries began picking up the date, especially revolving around the issue of Women’s Suffrage. Women’s Suffrage began to identify March 8 also and it soon became a holiday throughout the world. During the 1960’s Feminist Movement, feminist women began to celebrate IWD. Eventually people celebrated the occasion for a week and now, decades later, we now see it being celebrated for a month.

Women who have made an impact in locally and globally

Zipf mentions women’s rights activists, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, as one of the most influential women in America. Both women founded a radical wing of the women’s suffrage movement called the National Woman’s Party and protested during the height of World War I which led the women protestors to be arrested and taken to a women’s penitentiary, Occoquan. Paul went on a hunger strike to protest for women’s right to vote which scared the guards in the prison.

“They (the guards) strapped her to a chair, they forced her mouth open, put a tube down her throat, and they began to crack raw eggs down the tube to keep her alive,” Zipf said. As word got out to the public about Paul’s treatment in the prison, Ziph explained, was the moment when other women in the National Woman’s Party began to lobby and fight for women’s rights to vote.

Holly Campbell, graduate assistant for ECU’s Women and Gender Office (WGO), states it’s a lot of women who made an impact like Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks and Sybil Ludington, a 16-year-old female who rode 40 miles to warn around 400 militant men that the British troops were coming but her act was overshadowed by Paul Revere.

“To start with the Pitt County Sheriff, Paula Dance. She was the first black female sheriff in North Carolina and she was the seventh in the country,” Campbell said. “So I think that’s incredible when it’s right here in North Carolina, Pitt County specifically and so she’s like a local celebrity.”

Campbell also named Dr. Virgina Hardy, the Vice Chancellor of ECU Student Affairs, as an influential woman and a powerhouse to ECU campus and WGO associate director, Ashley Cleland, who impacted the ECU community by starting the WGO on campus.

What are some ways for women to support one another?

Campbell states that some ways for women to support one another start with the basics of not tearing each other down because women are usually the first to tear each other down when instead they should be uplifting each other. People are able to succeed based on positive recognition and supporting the acts that everyone does, according to Campbell.

“Supporting the new business they (women) started, supporting each other in different ways. We have so many resources, time is one that is so valuable. You can give somebody your time, sometimes that means more to someone than money so I think showing your support overall in different ways,” Campbell said.

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