Skip to Main Content

Women's History Month: History and Origins

May is Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month

Origins of Women's History Month

Women's History Month

Women’s History Month started as a homegrown celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women designed and carried out a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. The planners chose the week of March 8 to parallel with International Women’s Day. The crusade extended through the nation as other communities organized their own Women’s History Week festivities the following year.

In 1980, an association of women’s groups and historians—led by the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women's History Alliance)—effectively petitioned for national acknowledgement. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week.

Succeeding Presidents persisted in decreeing National Women’s History Week in March until 1987 when Congress passed Public Law 100-9, appointing March as “Women’s History Month.” From 1988 and 1994, Congress passed further resolutions calling for and sanctioning the President to decree March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, each president has delivered an annual declaration designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”


Women's History Month Theme

The National Women’s History Alliance selects and publishes the yearly theme. The 2024 Women’s History Month theme is “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.”  The theme recognizes women throught the country who understand that, for a positive future, we need to eliminate bias and discrimination entirely from our lives and institutions.

Learn more about the 2024 National Women’s History Month theme from the National Women's History Alliance.

Important Events in Women's History


The Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention organized by women is held in New York. The convention has 300 attendees, including organizers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.


Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to graduate from medical school and become a doctor in the United States. She graduated from Geneva College in New York with the highest grades in her class.


Sojourner Truth, a former slave turned abolitionist and women's rights activist, delivers her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech at the Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.


The legislature of the territory of Wyoming passes America's first woman suffrage law, granting women the right to vote and hold office


Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, which coordinated the national suffrage movement.


Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic in the United States in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Her clinic was deemed illegal under the "Comstock laws" which forbade birth control, and the clinic was raided days after opening. Due to legal threats, she eventually closed the clinic and founded the American Birth Control League in 1921—the precursor to Planned Parenthood.


Jeannette Rankin, of Montana, an activist with the National Woman Suffrage Association, is sworn in as the first woman elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives.


The 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is ratified, declaring "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."


Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman, and second pilot ever to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.


Black seamstress, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, AL, helping to launch the civil rights movement.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the first commercially produced birth control pill in the world, allowing women to control when and if they have children. Margaret Sanger initially commissioned "the pill" with funding from heiress Katherine McCormick.


President John F. Kennedy signs into law the Equal Pay Act, prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination between men and women performing the same job in the same workplace.


President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law, of which Title VII bans employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, or sex.


Betty Friedan, author of 1963's The Feminine Mystique, helps found the National Organization for Women (NOW).


President Richard Nixon signs into laws Title IX of the Education Amendments, which states "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."


In its landmark 7-2 Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declares that the Constitution protects a woman's legal right to an abortion.


Billie Jean King defeats Bobby Riggs in "The Battle of the Sexes" tennis exhibition match.


Sandra Day O'Connor is sworn in by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.


Sally Ride became the first American woman in space when she flew ont he Space Shuttle Challenger.


Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale names U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of NY as his running mate, making her the first woman vice president nominee by a major party.


Janet Reno is nominated by President Bill Clinton and sworn in as the first female attorney general of the United States.


Clinton signs the Violence Against Women Act as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, providing funding for programs that help victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, stalking, and other gender-related violence.


Madeleine Albright is nominated by President Bill Clinton and sworn in as the nation's first female secretary of state.


U.S. Rep Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) becomes the first female speaker of the House.

In 2019, Pelosi reclaims the title, become the first lawmaker to hold the office two times in more than 50 years.


The U.S. Military removes a ban against women serving in combat positions.


Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman to receive a presidential nomination from a major political party.

2020 Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was appointed by President Biden becoming the first African-American woman and the sixth woman appointed to the Supreme Court.
2021 Kamala Harris is sworn in as the first woman and first woman of color vice president of the United States.
2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, 597 U.S. (2022). The Supreme Court overrules both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, determining that the Constitution of the United States does not confer any right to abortion. This returns abortion regulation to the states.


Library Hours | My Account | Contact Us | Chat with A Librarian