LANDMARKS At least 12,000 years ago According to a theory accepted by most anthropologists, the first women arrive in North America via the Bering land bridge from Asia.
At least 2,000 years ago Women play important roles in the hundreds of different American Indian cultures that thrive before European arrival in the 1500s. Women’s roles are as varied as their societies. Some women gather food or plant crops; some make tools and build houses; some participate in trade. In some societies, community life and economics are organized around female kinship. In many, older women are important leaders; they might choose the chief, arrange marriages, or run the treasury.
1587 Virginia Dare is the first child born in America to English parents (Roanoke Island, Virginia).
1848 The first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. After two days of discussion and debate, sixty-eight women and thirty-two men sign a Declaration of Sentiments, which sets the agenda for the women’s rights movement. A set of resolutions calls for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights for women.
1850 The first National Women’s Rights Convention takes place in Worcester, Massachusetts, attracting more than one thousand participants. National conventions are held yearly (except in 1857) through 1860.
1861–1865 The Civil War. An estimated 3,200 women served as volunteer nurses for the Northern and Southern armies.
1874 The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is founded to improve the morality of the nation, in particular by protesting alcoholic beverages.
1896 The National Association of Colored Women is formed, bringing together more than one hundred black women’s clubs.
1917–1918 U.S. involvement in World War I. About ten thousand American women serve as nurses for the military.
1919 The federal Woman Suffrage Amendment, originally written by Susan B. Anthony and introduced in Congress in 1878, is passed by both houses of Congress.
1920 The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote, is signed into law.
1935 Mary McLeod Bethune organizes the National Council of Negro Women, a coalition of black women’s groups that lobbies against job discrimination, racism, and sexism.
1941–1945 U.S. involvement in World War II. About one hundred thousand women serve as WACs (members of the Women’s Army Corps), and about eighty-six thousand as WAVES (Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Service). On the home front, more than six million women fill industrial jobs to help the war effort.
1963 Betty Friedan publishes her highly influential book The Feminine Mystique, which describes the dissatisfaction felt by many American housewives. The book becomes a bestseller and helps to launch the modern women’s rights movement.
1966 The National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded by a group of feminists including Betty Friedan. The largest women’s rights group in the nation, NOW seeks to end sexual discrimination, especially in the workplace, by means of legislative lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations.
1972 The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Originally drafted in 1923, the amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The amendment dies in 1982 when it fails to achieve ratification by a minimum of thirty-eight states.
DI D YOU KNOW?
Some Cowgirls Already Had the Vote In 1920, American women won the right to vote in national elections — one of the most significant achievements in their history. But did you know that women had already won the right to vote in a number of states? Actually, the territory of Wyoming was the first place in the United States to pass a woman suffrage law, in 1869. Women began serving on juries in the territory the following year.
In 1893, Colorado became the first state to adopt an amendment granting women the right to vote. Utah and Idaho followed suit in 1896; Washington State in 1910; California in 1911; Oregon, Kansas, and Arizona in 1912; Alaska and Illinois in 1913; Montana and Nevada in 1914; New York in 1917; and Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma in 1918.
WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH Women’s History Month has been celebrated nationally since 1987 (and as Women’s History Week from 1981– 1986). There’s a lot to celebrate!
In the nineteenth century, when the women’s rights movement was born, women were second-class citizens. They were just beginning to gain admission to colleges. They were prohibited from entering many professions. Married women had to surrender most of their rights, including the right to own property, to their husbands. Women could not participate in national elections. But womennnnn worked to improve their status. Women’s History Month celebrates those trailblazers who helped women to secure a more equal place in society.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 to honor the women of the world. The holiday was first celebrated in the United States on February 28, 1909, under the leadership of the Socialist Party of America. On the eve of World War I it became an annual event that was part of the peace movement in Europe. (In Russia today it is a major holiday — celebrated, like Mother’s Day, with flowers or breakfast in bed — on which men show appreciation for the women in their lives.) Since 1975, the United Nations has sponsored International Women’s Day, and its date has been fixed at March 8. The UN calls it a day to honor “ordinary women as makers of history.”
RELIGION Even though women have only recently been permitted to hold official roles in many religions, they have always been central to American religious life. Unofficially, women have often been the primary carriers and creators of religious culture.
Religion has also been an arena for American female activists. Many abolitionists and other early social reformers were motivated in part by religious belief. Beginning in the 1800s, numerous Christian women, black and white, and Jewish women founded religious schools and aid organizations. Many of the African American women who helped power the civil rights movement in the 1960s drew strength from their religions and organized through their churches.
Here are some notables in the history of women and American religion.
First community of nuns in the thirteen colonies: A Carmelite convent near Port Tobacco, Maryland, established by Mother Bernardina Matthews in 1790.
First female minister in a recognized U.S. denomination: Antoinette (Brown) Blackwell, in 1853. She was ordained in the Congregational Church but later became a Unitarian.
First major religion founded by an American woman: The Church of Christ, Scientist, established by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879.
First U.S. citizen to become a saint: Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850– 1917), in 1946. She was born in Italy.
First native-born American to become a saint: Elizabeth Ann Seton, in 1975. She had established the first American community of the Sisters of Charity, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1809.
First female American rabbi: Sally Jean Priesand, in 1972. She was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.
First female Episcopal bishop in the United States: Barbara Harris, in 1989. She was also among the first African American women ordained as Episcopal priests.