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21 Women’s History Month Facts
February 28, 1909 marked the first Woman’s History Day in New York City. It commemorated the one-year anniversary of the garment workers’ strikes when 15,000 women marched through lower Manhattan. From 1909 to 1910, immigrant women who worked in garment factories held a strike to protest their working conditions. Most of them were teen girls who worked 12-hour days. In one factory, Triangle Shirtwaist Company, employees were paid only $15 a week. History.com describes it as a “true sweatshop.” Young women worked in tight conditions at sewing machines, and the factories’ owners didn’t keep the factory up to safety standards. In 1911, the factory burned down and 145 workers were killed. It pushed lawmakers to finally pass legislation meant to protect factory workers.
An education task force in Sonoma County, California kicked off Women’s History Week in 1978 on March 8, International Women’s Day, according to the National Women’s History Alliance. They wanted to draw attention to the fact that women’s history wasn’t really included in K-12 school curriculums at the time.
Women’s organizations, including the National Women’s History Alliance, campaigned yearly to recognize Women’s History Week. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 Women’s History Week across the country. By 1986, 14 states had declared the entire month of March Women’s History Month, according to the Alliance. The following year, in March of 1987, activists were successful: They lobbied Congress to declare March Women’s History Month.
Since 1995, every president has issued a proclamation declaring March Women’s History Month, usually with a statement about its importance.
The 2020 theme was “Valiant Women of the Vote” and honored women from the original suffrage movement, as well as women who continued the struggle in the 20th and 21st century, in recognition of the centennial of the 19th Amendment. Due to the pandemic, this theme was extended into 2021 and renamed as: “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced.” The 2022 theme is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” according to the National Women’s History Alliance. This theme not only honors the tireless work of caregivers and frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also women of all backgrounds who have provided compassionate healing and hope for the betterment of patients, friends, and family.
The Wyoming Territorial legislature gave every woman the right to vote in 1869, according to History.com. They elected the country’s first female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, in 1924.
The 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was signed into law on August 26, 1920. But at the time, a number of other laws prohibited Native American women, Black women, Asian American women, and Latinx women from voting, among others. It wasn’t until 1924 that Native women born in the United States were granted citizenship, allowing them to vote, according to PBS. But even after that, Native women and other women of color were prevented from voting by state laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests. It wasn’t until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, that discriminatory tactics such as literacy tests were outlawed, and all women could vote.
Women and family members of women who were involved in the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott before or along with Rosa Parks. Before Rosa Parks repeated the act, Claudette Colvin was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama when she was 15 years old.
Rosa Parks’ contributions to the Civil Rights Movement are undeniable. But nine months before she refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white person in Montgomery, Alabama, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin did the same thing on the same bus system. But Colvin isn’t widely recognized for her act. On March 2, 1955, the day she was arrested, she had been learning about Black history at her school. “My head was just too full of black history, you know, the oppression that we went through,” she told NPR in 2009. “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn’t get up.”
She was one of the plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the case that ended up overturning bus segregation laws in Montgomery.
But she wasn’t allowed to travel to space due to her gender. She testified on Capitol Hill in 1962, saying, “We women pilots who want to be part of the research and participation in space exploration are not trying to join a battle of the sexes,” according to the New York Times. “We see, only, a place in our nation’s space future without discrimination.”
However, John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, opposed her. He said “it is just a fact” that women don’t do certain things that men do, such as go to war and fly airplanes. “The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order,” he said.
Sally Ride became the first woman in space on June 18, 1983, when she flew on the space shuttle Challenger. It wasn’t until her death that her obituary revealed she was gay; it referred to Tam O’Shaughnessy as her “partner of 27 years.”
Until Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, women couldn’t get credit cards in their own name. Often, they had to bring a man along to cosign for them, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Legal work done by late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg laid the foundation for the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, as well as many other basic rights women have today, including the ability to attend state-funded schools, protection from pregnancy discrimination at work, and the ability to serve on juries, according to USA Today.
One-hundred and forty-five women serve in the United States Congress out of 535 total members. Though the number of women representatives continues to rise, it’s important to keep in mind that the United States population is 50.8 percent female, according to Census data.
Women age 85 and older outnumber men by about 2 to 1, according to Census data from 2019. That’s about 4.2 million women to 2.4 million men in the United States.
Women are outnumbering men in earning postsecondary degrees. According to 2021 data from the Education Data Initiative, 59% of women continued their education after high school, compared to 50% of men.
Despite the ever-growing number of women getting degrees, the gender pay gap has narrowed by less than half a cent per year since the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, according to Forbes.com. Women are paid 82 cents for every dollar that a man makes, with that gap widening even more for women of color, according to 2020 data by the National Women’s Law Center.
Women also make up 23% of officers in the Coast Guard. In January 2013, the U.S. government lifted its ban on women serving in combat positions.
Curie was a scientist whose research on radioactivity led her to discover two new elements. She also researched the atom, and her findings have been integral in scientific advancements related to atomic bombs and medicine, according to Scientific American. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, as well as the first person and only woman to win two Nobel Prizes. She won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1911.
The First Lady held the first press conference for women reporters on March 6, 1933. She would cover issues “of special interest and value to the women of the country,” according to the National Women’s History Museum. Over the next 12 years she held 348 press conferences for women reporters.
And nearly a million women returned to the workforce in 2021, almost double that of men. According to the 19th, 3.3 million of all the jobs added to the economy went to women, while 3.1 million went to men. This, however, should not overlook the jobs women, in particular women of color, lost during the pandemic when responsibilities such as childcare often fell on their shoulders.
Known as the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She’s known for her rendition of Otis Redding’s “RESPECT,” and songs of her own like “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” She was also involved in civil rights activism, and performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
After winning the 2020 presidential election with Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris is making history as the first woman, first Black woman, and first Asian American vice president in U.S. history.
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