As many already know, March is Women’s History Month. At SWSG, we  believe in the importance of teaching women’s history as a core part of our program. Learning about strong women like Bessie Coleman and Katherine Dunham is essential to the project of helping girls locate themselves within the wider context of history. This year, the theme of Women’s History Month is “Women’s Education-Women’s Empowerment.” So, in honor of women’s historians everywhere, I want to pay homage to those who teach us about the strong women and strong girls of the past.
Gerda Lerner, considered to be one of the first professional female historians, once said, “Women’s history is the primary tool for women’s emancipation.” Lerner believed that girls and women needed to know how central women were to the progress of history in order to understand how influential they can be today. As the saying goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” By illustrating how girls and women have always impacted the world through the arts, religion, politics, and pretty much everything else, women’s historians offer narratives of empowerment.
History is still a male-dominated field, and only 18% of university history professors are women. Engaging girls of all ages with history can be tough since the material is often focused on broad themes (like war or politics) where women were formally excluded or because history has traditionally been written by men. (i.e. HIStory vs. HERstory) Luckily, now there are lots of cool ways to learn about women’s history.
For example, on the Library of Congress’ web page Pages from Her Story, you can read original documents written by women in history. Explore the writings of a Rhode Island girl from 1675 in “A Puritan Maiden’s Diary” or a poem by Abiah Marchant written aboard a ship bound for California in 1849. Looking at documents  like these is exactly what women historians do every day to learn about the lives of women and girls of the past.
Another example comes from the National Women’s History Museum’s website, which is full of interactive media, videos, and games designed to teach women’s history. Watch a short movie about women’s contributions to the fashion industry called, “Shop Til You Drop: A Century of Fashion” or visit “Clandestine Women: Spies in American History” an online exhibit about the world of smart, sneaky women who have worked as code breakers, couriers, and covert agents to protect their nation.
So this month, throw away any notions you have about history being all about boring names and dates, or wars that only men fought, and open yourself up to the wide world of women’s history.
Everything that explains the world has in fact explained a world that does not exist, a world in which men are at the center of the human enterprise and women are at the margin “helping” them. Such a world does not exist — never has.” -Gerda Lerner