March is Women’s History Month. This year, March has also seen the Centennial of the 1913 Suffrage March, and International Women’s Day. Women’s History Month was established in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 to establish Women’s History Week. Both this law and the subsequent Presidential Proclamation 4903 speak to the important role women played not only in their own suffrage but also as advocates “in the abolitionist, temperance, mental health reform, industrial labor and social reform movements, as well as the modern civil rights movement.” This law and proclamation also note that, despite their many contributions, women have often been overlooked in the histories of America. In 1987 Women’s History Week became Women’s History Month, and the laws and proclamations establishing this commemoration have celebrated both the general and individual achievements of women in the history of our country.
One of the important legislative achievements belongs to Representative Martha Griffiths, who was a member of Congress between 1955-1974. Since 1923, some form of an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution had been introduced, but all these proposed bills had languished in committee. In the 91st Congress, Rep. Griffiths forced the House of Representatives to act on Equal Rights Amendment. She filed a discharge petition which ensured that the joint resolution would be moved out of committee and placed before the House. Despite the success of this maneuver, differences between the legislation as passed by the House and the Senate meant that the resolution did not pass in the 91st Congress. Undaunted, in the 92nd Congress, Rep. Griffiths again introduced a new joint resolution on Equal Rights, House Joint Resolution 208 . The resolution passed Congress but failed to be ratified by “three fourths of the several states.”
Many people believe that because of the failure to pass such an amendment women’s earning power, has never been equivalent to men’s even though it has risen over the years. Still, the freedoms and the opportunities for women in the United States are great, and reading the proclamations issued by the Presidents to commemorate this month can educate and inspire us about the achievements so many of our foremothers.