Set up in the U.S.A in 1980, National Women’s History Project (NWHP) is non-profit educational organisation which was set up to challenge the common approach to U.S. history that overlooked women. NWHP’s aim is to highlight women’s ‘accomplishments and leads the drive to write women back into history’. The organization provide educational materials and information on women’s history.
Every March, the project focuses on a particular facet of women’s history by offering information and encouraging people to engage with the topic. This year NWHP have chosen the theme of ‘Women’s Education – Women’s empowerment’.
This topic may seem a little distant for us, as the University of Southampton has a 44:56 male to female ratio and we live in a society where males and females receive an equal education . NWHP reminds us that this is quite a recent trend.
After the American Revolution, girls did get given a basic education, however, this education was designed to prepare women for motherhood. This narrow scope of education imposed on women by the prejudices of physicians and other ‘experts’ who believed that women were not capable of the same intellectual development as men and it would be fundamentally damaging to allow women to partake in such education.
This year, NWHP is commemorating the action of six inspirational American women that helped bring about the improved education in the U.S.A today.
Emma Hart Willard (1787 – 1870): Believing that men and women should be educated equally, she lobbied the NY State Legislature. Her campaigning impressed the Governor of New York and Troy Female Seminary was established in 1821.
Charlotte Forten Grimke (1837 – 1914): Advocated the education of liberated slaves in the U.S.A and became the first black woman to teach on the island of St. Helena.
Gracia Molina de Pick (b.1929): when she was just 16, Gracia Molina de Pick founded and led the youth section of the Partido Popular, the only political party at the time which advocated women’s voting rights. She also wrote and created the first curricula for A.A. Degree in Chicana/Chicano Studies.
Annie Sullivan (1866 – 1936): education allowed Annie Sullivan to overcome her disability (she was almost blind). She took on the challenge of educating the young Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind. In turn, Helen Keller went on to become the first deaf-blind person to attain a Bachelor of Arts, an author, a lecturer and a political activist.
Brenda Flyswithhawks (b. 1950): she was one of the first members of the Cherokee community to attain a PhD. She is keen to make sure that cultural values are respected in education and is the co-director SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity).
Okolo Rashid (b.1949): She is the Director of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. Okolo Rashid uses education to promote the understanding and respect for Muslim culture.
National Women’s History Month celebrates the achievements of these inspirational women who not only addressed gender inequality in education but also recognised that previous education systems needed to be adapted to cater for and respect those with disabilities and with diverse cultural heritages.