A National Heritage of Professional Women
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the origin of the word “heritage” derives from the 13th century and is Middle English, from Anglo-French, from heriter to inherit, from Late Latin hereditare, from Latin hered-, heres heir.
Q: What is the difference between Culture and Heritage?
A: Culture is the combined body of knowledge that members of a society acquire by virtue of living in a place, while heritage refers to the legacy of the people that is inherited from earlier generations. Culture represents the way of life of a people whereas heritage is what the people inherit from the past. Additionally, heritage includes culture and is not restricted to artifacts and monuments alone. Heritage is a concept that reminds us of the value of our treasure, something that we must protect to leave for our future generations.
Preservation and conservation of our treasure from the past is the way to carry our heritage from the present to the future. Heritage is extrinsic while culture also includes intrinsic items.
Q: What impact does heritage play on professional women in the United States?
A: Organizations such as the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) serve as the only clearinghouse that provides information and training in multicultural women’s history for educators, community organizations, parents and anyone interested in expanding their understanding of women’s contributions to US history.
In 1979, Molly Murphy MacGregor—a member of NWHP—was invited to participate in The Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, which was chaired by noted historian, Gerda Lerner and attended by the national leaders of organizations for women and girls. When the participants learned about the success of the Sonoma County’s Women’s History Week celebration, they decided to initiate similar celebrations within their own organizations, communities and school districts. They also agreed to support an effort to secure a “National Women’s History Week.”
Q: How did Women’s History Month become recognized nationally ?
A: According to the NWHP, the first steps toward success came in February 1980 when President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week. Here is the text of his message:
President Carter’s Message to the nation designating March 2-8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week:
“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.
“As Dr. Gerda Lerner has noted, “Women’s History is Women’s Right.” It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage and long-range vision.
“I ask my fellow Americans to recognize this heritage with appropriate activities during National Women’s History Week, March 2-8, 1980.
“I urge libraries, schools and community organizations to focus their observances on the leaders who struggled for equality—Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman and Alice Paul.
“Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people.
“This goal can be achieved by ratifying the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “Equality of Rights under the Law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.””
That same year, Representative Barbara Mikulski—who at the time was in the House of Representatives—and Senator Orrin Hatch co-sponsored a Congressional Resolution for National Women’s History Week 1981. This co-sponsorship demonstrated the wide-ranging political support for recognizing, honoring and celebrating the achievements of American women.
A national lobbying effort followed. Education departments in several states encouraged celebrations of National Women’s History Week as an effective means of achieving equity goals within classrooms. Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, Alaska and other states developed and distributed curriculum materials for all of their public schools. Organizations sponsored essay contests and other special programs in their local areas. Within a few years, thousands of schools and communities were celebrating National Women’s History Week, supported and encouraged by resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards and the US Congress.
Each year, the dates of National Women’s History Week change. Every year, a new lobbying effort was needed. The NWHP led an annual national effort that included thousands of individuals and hundreds of educational and women’s organizations. By 1986, 14 states had already declared March as Women’s History Month. This momentum and state-by-state action was used as the rationale to lobby Congress to declare the entire month of March 1987 as National Women’s History Month. That year, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year to honor the extraordinary achievements of American women.
Be sure to read this month’s Message from Louise that discusses the diverse family heritage and cultures of NAPW members.