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National Women’s History Month started with Sonoma County women

A group of Santa Rosa women came together in the late 1970s to discuss something missing from the history books: women, or half of humanity.

Although history is in the past, they noticed the lack of women in books affected everyone around them, with few role models for girls and the misconception by society-at-large that women “did nothing important.” So they organized.

The coalition of local women — Molly Murphy MacGregor, Mary Ruthsdotter, Maria Cuevas, Paula Hammett and Bette Morgan — formed the National Women’s History Project in 1980 in Sonoma County with the goal of “writing women back into history.”

A couple of years earlier several of the women had organized a local Women’s History Week as leaders of the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women. The program featured speakers, school visits and a downtown Santa Rosa parade.

The coalition formed in 1980 went further by taking the movement national. Inspired by the success in Sonoma County, women’s groups across the country successfully lobbied for the week of March 8 to be National Women’s History Week. By 1987, Congress voted to make it the entire month of March.

Women’s History Month is celebrated annually to ensure important women who made progress aren’t forgotten. There’s Alice Paul, leader of the early 20th century suffrage movement who advocated for the 19th Amendment. And Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist born into slavery who made 13 rescue trips to save about 70 enslaved people in the 19th century. And many, many more.

The National Women’s History Project is now known as the National Women’s History Alliance, and the organization continues its work to this day. As it notes on its website, “History helps us learn who we are, but when we don’t know our own history, our power and dreams are immediately diminished.”

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