In Celebration of Women’s History Month
This year marks an important milestone in our nation’s history—the 100th anniversary of the right to vote for women. More than 130 years after such privileges were granted to men* and more than 70 years after the women’s suffrage movement began to gain momentum, this milestone was finally reached on August 18, 1920, when the state of Tennessee narrowly ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, making it the law of the land throughout the United States.
The courage it took to bring about this historic moment cannot be underestimated. Although men were involved in the cause, the movement was principally led and sustained by women—women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Ida B. Wells and Carrie Chapman Catt. What these and other women faced, from ridicule and intimidation to open hostility and arrest—and what they endured, from beatings and torture to imprisonment—attest to both their bravery and the strength of their convictions.
While these women have secured their rightful place in history, the contributions of many women have not received the credit they deserve, something the history books are only now beginning to correct. Since America’s earliest days, women have been responsible for many advances in science and technology. Take, for example, Sybilla Masters, who mechanized the process of cleaning and refining the corn that the early colonists grew in America, enabling it to be turned into many different food and cloth products. While it was acknowledged that she alone had created her invention, according to the laws at the time, women could not own property, not even intellectual property. Therefore, the patent was issued in her husband’s name. What makes Masters’ story even more compelling is not only the year in which the patent was issued, 1715, but the fact that this was the first patent issued to a man or a woman in recorded American history. Furthermore, it would not be her only patent.
Just a few days ago, our country lost another remarkable woman whose contributions to science are—it is no exaggeration to say—simply out of this world. Katherine Johnson was a NASA mathematician and physicist who helped put men on the moon. Her calculating skills were so exceptional that Astronaut John Glenn preferred her work to NASA’s own calculating machines, which weren’t as accurate as Johnson’s equations. Glenn once said, “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.” The contributions Johnson and her colleagues, mathematician Dorothy Vaughan and engineer Mary Jackson, made may well have remained relatively unknown had it not been for the 2016 Oscar-nominated film, “Hidden Figures,” which told the story of these remarkable women and their contribution to the success of America’s space program.
During March, as the college and the country celebrate Women’s History Month, I hope you will learn more about America’s trailblazing women either through your own research, by participating in some of CCAC’s many Women’s History Month activities or by enrolling in courses such as Introduction to Women’s Studies, History of Women and Women as Writers. It will be time well spent!
*Originally, the U.S. Constitution did not define who was eligible to vote, leaving it up to each state to decide who was eligible. With a few exceptions, voting rights in the 18th century were mostly restricted to white male property owners.