By: Summer Creeden
Human advancement has been a long and slow process. It took thousands of years of great thinking, inventing, and persevering to achieve all that we have today. As many have observed, human advancement has rapidly increased in the past century. People have their own theories as to why this is, but one strong theory as to why humans advanced so quickly in the past hundred years is because the number of contributions made to technology, science, art, and so on was doubled. In America, women began gaining their rights beginning in the early twentieth century. This meant that there were more thinkers and inventors than there had ever been before. It was only natural that humans advanced as quickly as they did.
Women’s History Month began in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 to be “Women’s History Week.” Over the next six years, the National Women’s History Project pushed and petitioned for the entire month of March to be “Women’s History Month.” They succeeded, and ever since then, Women’s History Month has been an annual celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture, and society.
“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung, and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” —President Jimmy Carter
The United States has been home to some of the greatest women throughout history. It is important to recognize these women and their accomplishments because many of them did not receive such recognition during their lifetimes. Below are some stories of the most influential American women to have ever lived.
Young Sacagawea was only sixteen years old when she joined Lewis and Clark on their exploration west. The Shoshone woman had become the property and second wife of French-Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau in 1803. Sacagawea could speak both Hidatsa and Shoshone, and Charbonneau could speak Hidatsa and English. Lewis and Clark, in desperate need of a translator, invited the couple to travel with them. Sacagawea was six months pregnant at the time, yet she still traveled. When she gave birth to her son months later, she continued the journey (which was almost another two years long), carrying her baby on her back. Lewis and Clark never would have made the journey alone, yet at the end of the expedition, Sacagawea’s husband was the only one to receive an award.
Sojourner Truth was born as a slave in Ulster County, NY in 1797. As a teenager, she was subjected to intense physical labor and beatings. She had five children with another slave. In 1827, Truth escaped with her newborn baby to an abolitionist family who bought her freedom for $20. After gaining her freedom Sojourner Truth moved to New York City to become a preacher. Years later, Truth met other abolitionist figures such as Frederick Douglass. Truth gave many speeches denouncing slavery throughout her life and became a well-known civil rights activist amongst Americans. On top of all of this, Sojourner Truth was also a women’s rights activist. She gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech in 1851 in Akron, Ohio. The speech sent a powerful message about equality for both the races and the sexes.
In the 1840s, the mentally ill were often put in prisons with horrible conditions where they were often abused and beaten. Dorothea Dix spent years traveling the country inspecting prisons and jails. Dix was horrified by what she saw, so she dedicated herself to prison reform. After much research and evidence collecting, she prepared and presented a report to the Massachusetts state legislature, and demanded change. Her efforts were not for nothing, because she successfully convinced Massachusetts to devote more time and money toward creating better insane asylums. After this, Dix traveled to other states and won reforms there as well.
Abigail Adams, born in Weymouth, MA in 1744, is a former First Lady of the United States. She married John Adams in 1764 and had five children with him. As her husband became busier and traveled more often for his job as a lawyer, then as a political revolutionary, then (after the war) as a diplomat, Abigail had to manage their property. Although women did not have the right to their own property at this time, Abigail often referred to the property as hers. She also enhanced the family’s prosperity through smart investment decisions she made all on her own. Adams wrote her famous letter to her husband while he attended the First Continental Congress, in which she wrote for the Founding Fathers to “remember the ladies.” Abigail advised her husband on many issues throughout his political career. Even after he lost his re-election, she kept correspondence with other political leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
There are so many women out there that have incredible stories to tell. These were only a few. In celebration of National Women’s History Month, spend some time researching the women that built this country. Their stories should never be forgotten.