Newswise — The national recognition of Women's History Month every March can be traced back to a class project at Sonoma State University in the early 1970s. Students in a women's history course created a slideshow highlighting the contributions of women to American history. The group continued to present the slideshow throughout Sonoma County and California.
Inspired by the success of that project and their studies at SSU, alumnae Molly Murphy MacGregor, Bette Morgan, Paula Hammett and many other women worked with the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women to create Women's History Week, with a focus on local schools and celebrations. As their efforts became known on a national level, others took up the charge and successfully lobbied the White House and Congress for federal recognition of Women's History Month every March.
MacGregor is now executive director and co-founder of the National Women's History Project, a part of the movement that pushes for the recognition of women's history.
"Sonoma State had a profound effect on the women's movement," said Hammett, who worked on the slideshow project with MacGregor and was a co-founder of the History Project. "The faculty was nurturing and supportive, really pushing us to take our ideas beyond the classroom."
Due in part to the women's movement and its passionate advocates like MacGregor and Hammett, much has changed for women in the workplace and the classroom since the early 1970s. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the percentage of female undergraduates rose from 42 percent in 1970 to 56 percent in 2015, and today remains about 57 percent.
As a result of this academic progress, more women hold high-level, historically male occupations. According to a recent report by Forbes, women now outnumber men in management positions in many key fields including finance, advertising, health services, and social/community services.
Women are also making ground as leaders in education. The American Council on Education reports that the number of women college presidents has grown from about 10 percent in the mid 1980s to 30 percent in 2016. This leadership transformation can also be seen within the CSU system. With the appointment of Lynnette Zelezny as president of CSU Bakersfield, more than half of CSU's 23 campuses are led by women—nearly double that national average.
Although women are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, many programs like those within the CSU system are working to increase women's roles in STEM. This not only sparks young women's interests, but it also gives them real-life role models, which MacGregor says increases the likelihood that they will pursue these careers.
"Recognizing the achievements of women in all facets of life has a huge impact on the development of self-respect and new opportunities for girls and young women," MacGregor says. "Recognizing history prepares the way for making history."