Black & Women's History Months

February ~ Black History Month

Black History Month had its beginnings in 1926, long before most people think it did. Originally known as Negro History Week, it had been proposed and established by Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The original week was the week in February that contained Frederick Douglass' and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, generally either the second or third week of the month. There had also been efforts along these lines by Mary Church Terrell, the National Council of Colored Women and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, as well as the Omega Psi Phi American Collegiate Fraternity Inc. In fact, in 1924, two years before Woodson and the ASNLH celebration debuted, the Omegas had already established and celebrated Negro Achievement Week. Both events were mainly community based, and very local, it wasn’t until 1926 that Woodson, taking the Omega’s and the ASNLH’s separate celebrations and combining them, expanded the idea to include the rest of the country, and white Americans as well as black Americans. At this time, the celebration was still largely educational, and each year, the ASNLH would select a national theme and provide the materials, some scholarly and some popular, for the celebration.

The idea was immediately popular, although at first, it was pretty much only black Americans who celebrated it. But more and more white Americans began to celebrate and endorse the celebration, and eventually, particularly in the northern US, mayors and governors and other local-level community officials began to endorse Negro History Week. By the 50s it was a well established tradition, and was coming to be used as an impetus towards promoting interracial understanding and harmony.

In the 60s, with the rise of the Black Power Movement, many activists and supporting community members began to object to the week long celebration as insufficient. In 1976, at both the country’s bicentennial and the ASNLH (which had become the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History) responded to the increasing demands of the people celebrating the holiday and held it’s first month long celebration of Black History Month as we know it today.

March ~ Women’s History Month

Similar to Black History Month, Women’s History Month traces it’s beginnings back to an already existing holiday, International Women’s Day. Originally celebrated on February 28, 1909, the United States' celebration of International Women’s Day was mainly a function of the Socialist Party of America. A largely political movement, the early “celebrations” were more along the lines of a protest and unionization movement than they were a day to celebrate women’s history and accomplishments; indeed, IWD was begun primarily by women who wanted to improve the conditions of their lives both at home and at work. In later years, the demonstrations spread across both the country and the world, fielding conferences and unionization movements across Europe and melding with the European peace rallies on March 8, 1913.

After the 20s, the movement seemed to have disappeared until with the rise of the feminist movement in the 60s, it was enthusiastically revived as a celebration of women’s history, although with several groups pursuing Title IX and ERA approval, the celebration did keep its political edge and importance.

The month long event we celebrate now begun in 1978 in California as Women’s History Week. In 1981, Congress, approved a Joint Congressional Resolution proposed by Senator Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Mikulski (D-MD) making Women’s History Week a national holiday. Used by many schools across the country to promote equality among the sexes, the celebration lost it’s political edge and became mainly educational. With later support from local officials, in 1987 Congress expanded the week-long educational celebration to include the full month of March.

Amelia Bosque