The History of Women’s History Month: Bread and Roses
National Women’s History Month traces its roots back to when garment workers from New York City factories staged a protest over inhumane working conditions and low wages on March 8, 1857. Despite violent attacks on protesters, the movement continued. It successfully led to the creation of the first women’s union.
According to Steph Solis of Yes! Magazine, in 1908 as 15,000 women (mostly young European immigrants) marched in New York City for shorter work hours, better pay, voting rights, and an end to child labor, they touted the slogan: “Bread and Roses” – with bread as a symbol for economic security and roses for better living standards.
The first Women’s Day celebration in the United States was in 1909, also in New York City. More than seven decades later in 1981, Congress established National Women’s History Week to be commemorated annually the second week of March. Just a few years later in 1987, Congress expanded that week to a month, designating March “Women’s History Month”.
This month, we honor the sacrifices, advances, and progress made by women over the years. To celebrate Women’s History Month, we spoke with our own Proximity educators about the importance of this month. It’s crucial to highlight the work they do every day and ask the experts. Learn more from three Proximity Learning teachers as they reflect on their education experience and Women’s History Month.
Why is it important to teach Women’s History Month?
Christine Law, Virtual History, ELA, Science & Math Teacher, Achievements from the Heart
Mrs. Law says she knew from a young age that she was “one of those nerdy kids” that loved school so much she did not want to leave. So, she became a teacher.
“I went into education because I wanted to make a difference in children’s lives, first and foremost.”
Mrs. Law believes in the power of education and becoming a lifelong learner. Cultivating a passion for learning and helping her students grow into people who can instill their own personal equity in education is crucial.
“I came from a really rural, poor background and education was my way out.”
Her passion comes from knowing she wanted the opportunity to show children from all walks of life that education is a door to achieving your dreams, whatever those dreams may be.
“Of course, seeing that light come on and those ah-ha moments are what I live for as a teacher…especially whenever they figure it out on their own, that is the goal right there for me as a teacher.”
Women of Influence
Mrs. Law says she was always intrigued in her history classes by those women who made huge historical contributions like Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Katherine Johnson, Anne Frank, and Amelia Earhart. Despite having only male history teachers from elementary school through college, she began to examine these women, develop a passion for historical figures, and see herself as a woman who could affect change in the world.
“I wanted to see if I could make some of those contributions, if I was one of those people who could overcome the adversities to achieve something great – and it didn’t have to be something like fame or fortune. It just had to be something great in my heart, what I felt was something great, and I think [through teaching] I’ve achieved that.”
Passing Down the Knowledge
Mrs. Law believes in addition to Women’s History Month being important and taught in the classrooms – it’s important that every child in her classes see themselves as significant. She believes teaching women’s history gives her female students real-life heroes they can relate to. Furthermore, it gives the male students a glimpse into how essential women are.
“So, it’s going to allow both of the genders to see that they’re not superior to one another, we’re all capable of the same greatness.”
When teaching women’s history in her own classroom, the first thing she does is share her own journey to becoming an educator, a historian, a cultural activist, a professional musician, and what it meant trying to achieve those things in a predominantly male guided society.
Then, she looks for opportunities to include examples of historically significant women into her daily lessons.
“I might weave in a snippet about Katherine Johnson, you know, the NASA mathematician, the one the Hidden Figures movie was [based on]…into my math lessons. And this is going to show [my students] why math is important. You know, because they always ask that question – ‘When will I ever use this?’”
Mrs. Law knows and communicates how important it is for her students to see those real-life examples of women who not only overcame adversity but also went on to achieve great success.
Advice for Future Women Educators and Leaders
· Set your eye on a goal and work on that goal incessantly, do not give up or allow self-doubt or anyone else’s views to get in the way of you achieving your dream.
· Seek out good role models because when you’re going through tough moments, the people who have overcome and been where you are will better understand your journey and can assist.
· Most importantly, take it one day at a time and know that a setback is not the end of the road. It’s not the end of your journey, it does not spell failure – it’s just a moment to reassess, tackle [issues] in different ways and forge ahead.
Lisa Tafoya, History 7-12, Keeping the Torch Lit and Passing it on
The decision to go into education was impacted by the amazing teachers Ms. Tafoya had in school. She says they were passionate and, “You could tell they cared about their students.” She wanted to instill a lifelong love of learning for others and set a fire in their hearts and brains.
“I personally struggled in school growing up, and I wanted to go into education to be that same kind of teacher that I had [growing up] to other children.”
Light bulb moments and connections with kids keep her flame lit while she teaches.
“I love that moment when they make the connection between past and present…it’s such an amazing feeling, to know you contributed to that.”
A Love for the Troublemakers and the Rebels in Women’s History
Ms. Tafoya reflects upon Women’s History Month and indicates that there is not one significant moment or person in women’s history that inspired her, instead it’s a combination of women and moments that have inspired her – especially the ones who bucked societal norms and didn’t have a problem breaking the rules.
Closer to home, she says, it was her mother and grandmother who influenced her and shaped who she is today. She speaks with reverence, love, and respect for the women in her family, calling her mother a true pioneer in her own right.
“You know, they [her mother and grandmother] were strong. They were stoic. They took care of their business, and they did what they had to do to get it done.”
“Without Women: it would be a horrible mess”
Ms. Tafoya doesn’t hold back when she is asked about the importance of teaching women’s history indicating they are the backbone of society and the glue that keeps everybody together. Not only is it important to teach women’s history, but it’s important to remind students that women have always been here and [traditionally] have always been the ones nurturing and caring for the things the men could not take care of. It also teaches boys [and men] how to respect women.
“It’s also teaching our girls [that they] have a voice, can speak up, and can do whatever they want. They just have to work for it.”
The Legacy of Ruthless Women
As a World History teacher, she gravitates towards strong historical figures like Catherine de Medici and Queen Elizabeth who fascinate Ms. Tafoya – especially in terms of them being able to stand their ground during times when most women wouldn’t or especially couldn’t.
Ms. Tafoya candidly discusses the need for honesty when it comes to teaching history and our past mistakes as a society and as people. If we want to move forward and progress as a society we’re going to need to have tough conversations – especially in the education sector and classrooms.
Advice for Future Women Educators and Leaders
· Be passionate. Whatever you’re going to do, be passionate about it.
· Make sure that you don’t mind breaking the rules here and there, shake things up a bit.
· Speak up – even when you’re not being spoken to.
Samantha LaCroix, US History &Science Teacher, The Generation who Won’t Allow Any Women to be Swept Under the Rug
Ms. LaCroix didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher, even though she grew up playing “teacher” with her American Girl and Bratz dolls. While she wanted to do other things like [be a] surgeon or forensic scientist, she eventually realized teaching was really the only thing that fit.
“I’ve always loved helping others and I enjoy working with kids, even as a teenager. And, as someone who didn’t really excel in school…I wanted to help make the experience of students who have similar situations better for them.”
Ms. LaCroix says it might sound cliché, but the best part of being an educator is the kids. Whether she is teaching virtually or in-person, they [students] bring so much energy and passion into the space.
“The best part by far is forming those relationships with students.”
Women’s History and Accomplishments Cannot be Brushed Aside
Ms. LaCroix makes it a point to explore figures whose work was ignored, stolen, or faced larger-than-life adversities when teaching.
“These women are the boundary pushers and broke through those glass ceilings,” she mentions after listing off women like Rosalind Franklin, a female chemist whose work was stolen by male colleagues.
But she acknowledges that it is her mother more than anyone else who continues to inspire her today.
“She’s been the only female executive at different companies and has smashed some glass ceilings in her field. She’s just a real powerhouse of a lady.”
Women’s History IS History
Ms. LaCroix is matter of fact in saying that all history whether it’s ancient history, world history, or modern history is women’s history. There are women who stand out and broke glass ceilings like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and Katherine Johnson, but the everyday woman is just as important as those boundary pushers.
“You can’t ignore women in history – as hard as the world has tried to – you just can’t do it. Women have been an oppressed group for as long as recorded history, really. I like to make it a point to bring women into the discussion because representation matters. Women have been the backbone of so many historical events and everyday events.”
Tired of seeing women and their accomplishments get “swept under the rug”, Ms. LaCroix makes inclusivity a part of every day’s lesson whether it’s highlighting scientific breakthroughs, current events, or historical events.
“Teaching women’s history to me is just a natural way to teach history. It’s teaching an honest and complete history. It would be a disservice to me and other women – especially my female identifying students – if I were to continue [a legacy] to teach without including the narratives of women.”
Advice for Future Women Educators and Leaders
· Learn to take up space, while also letting others be seen
· Stop saying sorry for things that aren’t your fault or job
· Start making boundaries and learning to say no when necessary
· Stay humble – learn when to step up to the mic and when to step away
· Women’s rights are people’s rights; women’s history is human history
Watch our expert teachers share their stories below. Apply to teach with us today.