Recognizing Women’s History
Message from the headmaster
This past Tuesday, senior Maddie Hurlbert gave a talk in morning Chapel to recognize that it is Women’s History Month. She shared its history, which bears some resemblance to that of Black History Month, in that it started from grass roots as a week and gradually, by 1987, grew into a month—a whole month—to celebrate the contributions of women. It may be fair to feel the same kind of impatience with this construct as we do with Black History Month and for similar reasons. While the purpose of these months is to repopulate our common historical understanding and remedy the dearth of black stories and women’s stories, they also show us that dearth in starker relief.
In other words—speaking from my own experience—it is never clearer to women how marginal we have been in the grand narratives of our history than when the calendar turns to Women’s History Month. That said, Maddie’s talk resonated with me because there is no question that it remains critical for us to keep naming the names of influential women, including our new vice-president Kamala Harris, and to keep “celebrating the evolution of feminism and…powerful women.” Maddie is right that these “first women” are critically “inspirational for women and girls everywhere” in the cultural landscape. For them to inspire, they need to be seen and honored and eventually make their way indelibly into the canon of what we teach and learn.
As a high school junior, Maddie is part of a generation that in twenty-five years will be substantially in charge of our institutions and organizations. If we’re going to be sure that this generation knows how critical gender diversity and equality are in all realms of life, we have to start now. They need to know that boards and leadership teams are demonstrably more successful when they are diverse and have high standards of gender equality, and that there is a strong correlation between a country’s levels of political and social unrest and its equal (or unequal) treatment of women and LGBTQ citizens.
“The future of women’s activism,” Maddie told us, “starts with all of us, the next generation of men and women trying to make our way into the world the best we can.” There are a lot of serious issues to grapple with in the world right now, and I hope that our students are learning that all genders will be required to face those issues effectively. Recognizing and reclaiming women’s history isn’t the work of a month—but the month is a means to the end we all want to see, and we owe it to our students to celebrate that as long as we need to.
Dr. Sharon L. Howell