Women’s History Month: Weaving the Stories of North Carolina Women
Cover: “Women’s History Month in North Carolina: A Salute to Women in History, March 1991-1992.” Published by the NC Council For Women, Department of Administration, 1992. Available in NC Digital Collections.
March is Women’s History Month! And the designation of March for the commemoration is no co-incidence. On March 8, 1908 amidst a police presence, female garment workers took to the streets of New York City to commemorate the march of their needle-worker forebears on March 8, 1857. Both marches demanded better working conditions, shorter days, and equal rights. The 1908 march also demanded the vote.
The following year, 1909, with the Socialist Party advocating the cause of women, the first National Women’s Day in the U.S. was designated by the Socialist Party of America to remember the march of the prior year. By 1911, as an outgrowth of the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen the year before, International Women’s Day was celebrated on the last Sunday in February for the first time in a number of European countries, including Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Then in 1913, March 8 became the date of the annual celebration of International Women’s Day. And some sixty years later, the United Nations would designate 1975 as the International Women’s Year.
Although these events would be celebrated in the U.S. with increasing advocacy for equality and the illumination of women’s history, it was not until 1981 that Congress would authorize the president to proclaim the week of March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” The year before, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation marking the week of March 8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week. From then until 1987, Congress passed annual resolutions marking the week each year until a petition in 1987 by the National Women’s History Project succeeded in securing Congressional approval for March as National Women’s History Month. All presidents since have issued proclamations for Women’s History Month in March.
North Carolina has its own long history in the wide-ranging women’s movement. Penelope Barker and the ladies of Edenton at the Edenton Tea Party of 1774 are a colonial example of efforts of women at independent political organization. North Carolina women organized vigorously in the suffrage movement, including the efforts of the North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association from 1894 until the passage of the 19th Amendement, the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the N.C. League of Women Voters founded in 1920. And Ella May Wiggins is remembered for her voice, strength, and tragic death in organizing mill workers in Gastonia in the 1920s. These are just a few of the many extraordinary efforts by North Carolina women in advocating for themselves and in determining the political and social landscape of the South into the 20th century.
At the governmental level, in 1963 Governor Terry Sanford issued an Executive Order creating the North Carolina Commission on the Status of Women. By 1972 funds would be designated for creation of the organization at the agency level, with a name change to the North Carolina Council for Women. Today the agency exists under the state’s Department of Administration.
And each year the National Women’s History Project selects both an annual theme and honorees. North Carolina civil rights and political activist Ella Baker was a past honoree. This year’s theme is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” And North Carolina’s women, both historical and contemporary, have woven their own stories into history, with contributions to education, science and medicine, civil rights and women’s rights, arts and culture, and historic preservation being only a few of the places their strength has reached. To learn more about North Carolina’s women and their histories, visit these collections and resources, with links to North Carolina documentary collections:
–By Kelly Agan, NCpedia Digital Media Librarian, Government & Heritage Library