Since 1995, U.S. presidents have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” These proclamations celebrate the contributions of women and recognize achievements women have made in a variety of fields over the course of American history. In addition, Tuesday, March 8, commemorated International Women’s Day, a global celebration marking the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was #BreakTheBias — a call to action to stand up against gender bias.
Access to formal education has historically been limited by factors such as socio-economic status, race and gender. However, as the stories of many women tell us, these barriers did not stop women and girls from striving to get as much education as possible. To this day, women continue to use their agency to push for equal educational access. The Pew Research Center in June 2019, published findings that indicated that women are now half of the U.S. college-educated workforce.
Women Who Inspire Our School Leaders
BSD leaders were recently asked to identify the women in their own lives who inspire them and why. Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives and other female scholars and school leaders were identified by BSD staff as the women who encourage, motivate and keep them grounded.
My mother. She’s a single mom and was brave enough to take her two kids to the U.S. with no family members here and no U.S. recognizable degree. She raised my brother and I with nothing and is such a hero in my life.
My grandmother. For too many reasons to name, she is a fierce believer in connecting to each other’s humanity, treating others the way you want to be treated, and serving community.
My sister. She has Rett syndrome, is a proud product of the BSD, and she continues to keep me grounded in my core values of love, respect, kindness and inclusion.
Local and National Highlights of Women Who Led the Way
The highlighted stories of women trailblazers shared below are brought to you by the Smithsonian Institution’s American Women’s History Initiative. In partnership with the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.
Mary McLeod Bethune, First African American Woman to Head a Federal Agency
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955) was a renowned educator and reformer who dedicated her life to organizing and empowering African American women to work for equality. In 1904, during a time when there were limited learning options for girls, and even fewer for Black girls, Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute with five students (now Bethune-Cookman University). This program gave female students in Florida the tools they needed to become community leaders. Starting from humble beginnings, the university that now carriers her name — Bethune-Cookman University — offers a transformational leadership master’s degree program. In the 1930s, Mary Bethune was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the director of the Division of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration. This appointment made her the first African American woman to head a federal agency.
Ruby Hirose, Lauded Seattle-Area Japanese American Scientist
A Pacific Northwest native, Ruby Hirose, was born in Kent, Washington and was an accomplished biochemist and bacteriologist. In 1940, she was among ten women recognized by the American Chemical Society for her accomplishments in chemistry and made major contributions to the development of vaccines that prevented paralysis in infants. Additionally, Dr. Hirose researched treatments for allergies, blood clotting and cancer.
Kitty Cone, Activist for American Disability Rights
Around age 15, Kitty (Born Curtis Seldon Cone) was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. As a college student, Kitty became involved with the NAACP and the Civil Rights movement. After college she continued her community activism at the Center for Independent Living in Oakland, California where she lobbied to eliminate architectural and transportation barriers to access. When the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare refused to sign into law regulations for meaningful changes to U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities, Cone organized and participated in the longest sit-in at a federal building to date. As a result of her tenacity, the bill was signed. In 1977, 13 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act, Kitty Cone helped to pass Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Now commonly called “Section 504,” this federal law protects students from discrimination based on disability. This law applies to all programs and activities that receive funding from the federal government-including Washington public schools.