Celebrating the Role of
Women Throughout History


Special VOICES Web
Celebrating Women's History

The history of all times, and of today especially, teaches that ... women will be forgotten if they forget to think about themselves.

Louise Otto

I worshipped dead men for their strength, forgetting I was strong.

Vita Sackville-West

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Women's History

Some ask, "Why do we study women's history, or African American history, or Hispanic history?  Isn't it all just "history?"

Perhaps the best answer to those questions is that we cannot let important parts of our heritage be lost.  Many believe that traditional approaches to history are based on a "Great Man" perspective that overlooks the contributions of the diverse people.  Some believe that focusing on individuals at all distorts history -- the events of human existence are much bigger than any one personality.  Even great people were part of a larger culture and set of events that transformed their lives.

Many grew up studying history  from books that only presented the accomplishments of leading white men.  It was not until the 1920's that Carter G. Woodson advocated the importance of remembering contributions by African Americans.  Inclusion of women and the creation of "Women's Studies" programs did not happen until the 1960's and 1970's.

In many ways, what we are really talking about is creating more accurate history.  How can we learn from our past without a fuller appreciation of significant events and the people that shaped them?  If it is true that "Behind every great man is a great woman," then textbooks and scholarly studies have clearly left out important details about our past.  Women have also made huge contributions in their own right.  Significant events from history have been shaped by a variety of perspectives and peoples.

If history is not accurately recorded, important details get lost.  No, we are not talking about "rewriting" or "revising" history; we pointing out the importance of capturing detail and diverse views in order to create meaningful history in the first place. 

Without a closer look and broader perspectives, our accounts of the past are incomplete and wrong.  It is  not possible to fully understand anything without looking at the multi-facets that are present.  When important facts and figures are left our, history gets "lost" and succeeding generations are deprived of their heritage.

When looking for history that has been excluded or neglected from traditional accounts, historians are forced to look for clues in a wide variety of sources.  Diaries, letters, journals, brochures, and personal accounts become more important.  This, in turn, adds a "personal" touch to the past.  Many will find that inclusion of more sources will make history more interesting and meaningful.  Anything that connects more people with our past has to move our collective understanding of history forward.

For example, wars have tended to be fought by men.  The tragedy and destruction of war affects all people of any ethnicity and gender.  To more fully understand any conflict, the thoughts of the solders, their families, and the nation, and each community must be examined.  Even when not in battle, women's perspectives are important to understanding war and any other historical event.

Clearly, women have been a part of human culture for all time.  Looking specifically at women's history is important because it allows us to capture details and facts about our past before they are lost to the ages.   Women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the growth and strength of human culture.   Women have contributed and continue to play important economic, cultural, and social roles. 

Because of expectations and norms from "traditional roles," American women uniquely provided the majority of the volunteer labor force that built this nation.  Their legacy is forever stamped in charitable, philanthropic, and cultural institutions in our America.  The diversity of women's contribution has provided strength and hope to every major social change.

"Women's History" causes many to think of leaders of women's rights of suffrage and equal opportunity.  We must not forget that women were dominant forces in the abolitionist movement, the emancipation movement, the industrial labor movement, the civil rights movement, and other movements, especially the peace movement.  The work and sacrifices of many creates the foundation for a more equitable and just society for everyone.

To fail to acknowledge the roles of women and female leaders deprives us all of a greater understanding of our past.  It is easy to document that women have consistently been overlooked and undervalued, in the study of history, teaching, and literature.

Perhaps someday we will live in a society that values the contribution of all leaders and participants of progress.  Diversity in our understanding of history is the key to providing a more accurate and reflective look at our past.  It is not "revisionist history" to analyze and include people, places, and events that were systematically left out. 

The "revision" comes from the exclusion of others.  The study of specific aspects of history based on gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and multiculturalism is an important tool to keeping historical accounts accurate, inclusive, engaging, and, perhaps most important, meaningful to all.

By Bill Breitsprecher
©2006, Breitlinks.  All Rights Reserved

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Research Guide

Here are some resources to learn more about Women's History.  To see an easy to follow outline to help organize a research project, check our Mr. B's "Take Five" Research Process. To see more about writing, please look at Mr. B's Writing Quick Tips for "tips & tricks" and links to other Websites that cover virtually ALL aspects grammar and writing.

Topic: The contributions of men has traditionally been the foundation of "official" presentations of history.  Because women make up more than half the human population, and because each man has significant women in his life, the emphasis on "great men" distorts our understanding and appreciation of our past.  Women, collectively and as individuals, have made huge contributions to society in all historical time periods.

Library Subject Headings Understanding the difference between keyword and subject heading searches is important.  Keywords represent text that appears in a document.  Subject headings are assigned by an information specialists to help researchers identify resources that cover similar topics.  A powerful tool, subject headings create connections between sources and allow a user to benefit from someone else's work classifying information. 

Computerize library catalogs, can be searched with keywords, just like most Internet search engines.   Many useful resources, however, do not share keywords -- this means they will not be located by keyword searches.  Subject headings, however, identify documents that contain information about similar topics even when those documents do not share keywords.  Here is a listing of common subject headings (Sears), typically used in public and school libraries.

bulletAfrican American women
bulletEqual pay for equal work
bulletGoddess religion
bulletIndians of North America -- Women
bulletMexican American Women
bulletOrdination of women
bulletSelf-employed women
bulletSex discrimination
bulletWomen (may subdivide geographically)
bulletWomen air pilots
bulletWomen artists
bulletWomen authors
bulletWomen -- Biography
bulletWomen -- Biography -- Dictionaries
bulletWomen clergy
bulletWomen's clothing
bulletWomen -- Education
bulletWomen -- Employment
bulletWomen -- History (used for comprehensive information on history of women socio-economic, political, legal positions, participation in historical events, contributions to society)
bulletWomen -- Identity
bulletWomen in art (use for information on women depicted in works of art)
bulletWomen in literature (use for information on women depicted in works of art)
bulletWomen in motion pictures (use for information on women depicted in works of art)
bulletWomen in the Bible
bulletWomen in the motion picture industry (use for information about women's involvement in motion pictures)/
bulletWomen judges
bulletWomen physicians
bulletWomen -- Political activity
bulletWomen -- Politicians
bulletWomen Psychology
bulletWomen -- Religious life
bulletWomen -- Social conditions
bulletWomen Societies
bulletWomen -- Suffrage
bulletWomen -- United States
bulletWomen's movement
bulletWomen's organizations
bulletWomen's rights

Dewey Decimal Numbers.  Libraries are organized to help people find sources by ideas or topic (intellectual access) and then make that information easy to find on the shelves (physical access).  Most public and school libraries use the Dewey Decimal System, numbers that tell library users where to find information on the shelves. 

Here are some useful Dewey Decimal Numbers that should contain information about African American History.  "Browse" these sections to see if any resources look interesting or useful, looking up materials by subject headings will also refer library users to additional Dewey classifications.

bullet155.3 (Women -- Psychology)
bullet200.92 (Women clergy)
bullet220.8 (Women in the bible)
bullet248.4 (Women -- Religious life)
bullet291.4 (Women -- Religious life)
bullet270.092 (Christian Church History: Biographical Treatments)
bullet305.4 (Interdisciplinary works on women)
bullet305.42 (Women -- Social conditions)
bullet305.409 (Historical, geographic, persons treatment)
bullet305.40973 (Women -- United States)
bullet324 (Women -- Political activity)
bullet304.2092 (Women -- Politicians)
bullet323.3 (Women's movement)
bullet324.6 (Women -- Suffrage)
bullet331.4 (Women -- Employment)
bullet342 (Women's rights)
bullet347 (Women judges)
bullet367 (Women -- Societies)
bullet610.69 (Women -- Physicians)
bullet629.13092 (Woman air pilots)
bullet704.9 (Women in art)
bullet709.2 (Women artists)
bullet791.43 (Women in motion pictures)
bullet809 (Women authors)
bullet822 (Women -- Education)
bullet920 (Biography, use last name of subject)
bullet973 (General United States History)
bullet973.92 (United States History)

By Bill Breitsprecher
©2006, Breitlinks.  All Rights Reserved

[Voices Home] [Women's History Home] [Research Guide ] [Events Timeline]
[Print Resources] [Online Resources] [For Kids] [For Teachers]
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