Women’s History Month honors struggles, achievements

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., -- In early 1987, the National Women's History Project petitioned Congress to designate March 1987 as Women's History Month to honor and celebrate the struggles and achievements of American women throughout this country's history. In response, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, requesting and authorizing the president to declare March each year as Women's History Month.

The theme for the 2014 Women's History Month celebration is "Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment."

Since colonial days, American women have struggled to gain civil and political rights. Although women had significantly contributed to the heritage, culture, social fabric and even this country's defense, as late as the 1880s, they had few civil and political rights. For example, only two states, Wyoming and Utah, had granted women the right to vote by 1890. In many states, women could not own property or have wealth in their own right.

To change the status of American women, the women's rights movement developed over the 1800s, beginning with the Seneca Falls, N.Y., convention in July 1848.

Convened by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, the convention, attended by over 300 women and men, adopted the Declaration of Sentiments, a list of women's grievances modeled after the Declaration of Independence, and approved resolutions to improve the condition of women. Interestingly, women's right to vote was not one of them.

The women's rights movement grew in strength after the Seneca Falls convention despite the movement's temporary hiatus during the American Civil War. However, by 1890, the movement still had not made many significant changes in the civil and political status of women. One primary reason was that they could vote in only two states and could not vote in national elections.

Several prominent women, including Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman medical doctor in the United States, recognized that only after women gained the right to vote could they obtain substantial civil rights. As a result, they formed the American Suffrage Association in 1869. That same year, Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Women's Suffrage Association. In 1890, these two organizations united to form the National American Women Suffrage Association.

In January 1878, Republican Sen. Aaron A. Sargent of California introduced a woman's voting rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution into Congress. However, the amendment made little headway in Congress. In the early 1990s, NAWSA began a campaign to obtain the right to vote state-by-state. In 1913, two suffragettes, Alice Paul and Lucy Stone, formed the Congressional Union for Women's Suffrage (National Women's Party in 1916), to campaign for a national women's right to vote amendment.

On Aug. 26, 1919, 32 years after its first introduction in the Congress, that amendment finally gained sufficient support in Congress and state legislatures to become the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. To recognize the importance of this amendment, Congress in 1971 passed a resolution that declared August 26 as Women's Equality Day.