Celebrated during the month of March in the U.S., National Women’s History Month traces its beginning back to the first International Women’s Day in 1911. As celebrations of International Women’s Day increased throughout the years, both in public school districts and on college campuses, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation in February 1980 declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week.
In 1987, due to the growing popularity of Women’s History Week and after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. Since then, a special presidential proclamation is issued every year honoring the achievements of American women.
In Canada, Women’s History Month is celebrated in October to coincide with Persons Day on Oct. 18. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and girls as trailblazers throughout Canadian history.
This year’s National Women’s History Month theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced.” Honoring the valiant women who have fought for a woman's right to vote in the U.S., the theme is being carried over from 2020 and captures the spirit of these challenging times. Since most 2020 women’s suffrage centennial celebrations were curtailed, the National Women’s History Alliance extended the annual theme to 2021.
Most certainly, I equate this theme with the women of the National Panhellenic Conference, who are also valiant as we tirelessly advocate for the sorority experience and work to preserve the women's-only experience. We are persistent in ensuring our sorority and fraternity communities stay vibrant and healthy, and we refuse to be silent when our rights to sisterhood are threatened.
As you know, sisterhood is the foundation of sorority, literally and figuratively. When the first sorority was founded on a college campus more than 150 years ago, women were overwhelmingly outnumbered by their male peers. Sororities provided a crucial support system in environments that were anything but welcoming. Women have largely triumphed over these early obstacles, now surpassing men in college enrollment and achieving higher graduation rates, but it doesn’t mean that women don’t still need their own spaces on college campuses…spaces that allow women to support each other.
Today, our sororities typically provide the only student-organized women’s-only safe spaces on campus…spaces that allow women to empower and to advocate for one another. We know these spaces are sorely needed on campus and within society. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, we saw the rise of women’s-only co-working spaces and empowerment zones for women entrepreneurs. These are the type of spaces so many women look for to help them flourish.
And we know that college-going women are looking for this type of experience…a sisterhood and a shared experience.
As we find ways to celebrate Women’s History Month, we will continue to focus on the future of sorority and preserving the experience while at the same time adapting and evolving to meet the needs of our members in this ever-changing world. As sorority women we will be strong and valiant in our efforts to keep our sisterhoods thriving and to advance the sorority experience together.
Carole J. Jones