When I moved to Narrowsburg in 1978, Main Street was filled with women leaders. Gladys Maas was in charge at the Narrowsburg Feed Mill. Stella Ropke was manager at the River Bank, in the original …
When I moved to Narrowsburg in 1978, Main Street was filled with women leaders. Gladys Maas was in charge at the Narrowsburg Feed Mill. Stella Ropke was manager at the River Bank, in the original bank building on Main Street. Elaine Giguere was fully in charge of the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance. Dorothy Hinck ruled real estate and the Narrowsburg chamber. Barbara Elco and Elise Wood ran Mike Preis Insurance, joined later by Nancy Casey.
In neighboring Cochecton, Jean McCoach was the long-time supervisor and served on the Sullivan County Board of Supervisors.
In Highland, Eldred Central School student Betsy Johnson was dominating the soccer field, while Tammy Reiss was tearing up the basketball court.
Whenever these women made news, which they did in simply living their lives every day, the newspaper staff celebrated that girls in the valley would instinctively know that women made history and that leadership and historical consequence was not just a male domain.
The River Reporter, we marveled, was able to mirror a more balanced and equitable view of history than what was being taught in schools. Girls and women were all over our local news pages at a time when the influence of women in history was virtually a nonexistent topic in public schools curricula or even an element within general public consciousness and discourse.
Women’s History Month began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, CA. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. The organizers selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day, recognized since 1911. The movement spread across the country as other communities initiated their own Women’s History Week celebrations the following year.
In 1980, a consortium of women’s groups and historians—led by the National Women’s History Project, now the National Women’s History Alliance—successfully lobbied for national recognition. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential proclamation declaring the Week of March 8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week.
In 1981, the U.S. Congress established Women’s History Week as a federally recognized commemoration of the accomplishments, perspectives and experiences of women in the U.S. (It was a joint resolution, Public Law 97-28, championed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).)
And finally, this week became a month-long celebration in 1987 when Congress passed Public Law 100-9 and then passed subsequent resolutions requesting that the President make an annual declaration. Since 1995, each U.S. President has declared March to be Women’s History Month.
Being egalitarian, you might wonder why one gender needs a particular month devoted to its contributions to and arguments about history. The answer is simple: It’s because, when it comes to history (beyond the River Reporter’s local perspective, of course), the story of women is largely one of exclusion, silence, absence and bias. And we need a month at a national level, at minimum, to redress the balance.
History is more robust than a recitation of battles won and lost, and imposition of a dominant narrative of “why.” It is a record of the evolution of civilization. It has a sense of place and time. Upon it, lives are imagined and built.
For this month, let us delve into the rediscovery of women’s history. Let us recover it from the past and celebrate it as our legacy.
Speaking of legacies, for this month’s Monthly Conversation Experiment, we’re asking you to tell us about inspirational women who profoundly affected your life. They might be historical figures, modern celebrities, the nurse down the street, our mothers, grandmothers, role models, our teachers, our friends and loved ones. Send us a sentence or two, a short reflection (300 words maximum), poetry, artwork and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, March 19. If you would like to leave an audio reflection, call 845/252-7414 ext. 137.