By Catherine Martinez
March is Women’s History Month, and what a history it is to celebrate! Women have accomplished extraordinary things, breaking through barriers that previous generations would not have dreamed possible. Of course, there are familiar names who have made significant contributions to our country and world, but what about the women whose names we don’t know? They are our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, and without their heroic efforts to continue the American dream, we wouldn’t enjoy the freedom we do today. Here’s a quick snapshot of just a few moments in history when ordinary women did extraordinary things to get the United States through its most challenging and most critical times.
The American Revolution
Even though they weren’t technically soldiers during the American Revolution, women often helped at their husband’s basecamp, treating the wounded, mending clothes, cooking, and washing. Living in the camp was risky, with some women injured in the battle fire.
The Daughters of Liberty formed in response to the British Parliament’s decision to increase taxes for the colonists. To show their dissent, the women boycotted imported British textiles and made their own, spinning their fabrics.
Women’s organizations also became instrumental by raising funds for the Continental Army. This was an essential source of income for the Revolution. It also started women’s organizations that became powerful philanthropic forces for good in the years to come.
The Civil War
Nursing took on a more prominent role for women in the Civil War, with Clara Barton leading the way to treat the sick and wounded in the Union Army. Her bravery led to the eventual founding of the American Red Cross and has inspired generations of women to become nurses.
Women also played an important role in the Underground Railroad, where Harriet Tubman was its most famous “conductor.” The bravery of Harriet and her network gave the gift of freedom to her friends and family. She also served as a spy and nurse for the Union Army and is considered the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. military.
World War I and the Suffragist Movement
World War I allowed women to fill more formal roles within the military. In addition to serving as nurses, hundreds of women became known as the “Hello Girls,” officially called the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, serving as switchboard operators in Europe and sometimes near the front lines.
On the home front, women kept the American economy going, assuming roles typically filled by men in agriculture, manufacturing, and industry. As women gained confidence in their contribution to society, the suffrage movement became more prominent. American women came together to advocate for enfranchisement. In 1918, World War I ended, and in 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the constitutional right to vote and full rights as citizens.
World War II
Perhaps one of the most famous symbols of the resilience and flexibility of the American woman is Rosie the Riveter in World War II. With so many men deployed overseas, women stepped into roles traditionally reserved for men in the workforce and society. There was no place where this was more important than the aircraft industry, where women worked to get crucial defense equipment to the front lines.
Women also took on increased responsibility in formal military roles, filling the unique position of code breakers. These women listened to enemy messages, decoding messages that determined military strategy.
The Civil Rights Movement
There are many heroes of the civil rights movement, but none of it would have been possible without the quiet and humble strength of Rosa Parks, who famously refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to a white man in 1955. Her arrest set off a chain of events that started the movement, leading to the Montgomery bus boycotts and galvanizing thousands of people around the country to peacefully protest the unequal treatment of African Americans.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
And how can we forget the last two years? Women have fought against adversity to homeschool their children while working full-time jobs simultaneously. Some have served as healthcare workers, frontline workers, and first responders. American women have kept the economy running while tending to the needs of their families. We are making history right now, adding to the legacy of the women who have blazed a trail before us.
The United States would be a much different place without the tenacity and perseverance of American women. Maybe we don’t know all of their names, but we remember the legacy of sacrifice and service to their country and family. So today, let’s continue the tradition of extraordinary American women by serving our communities, standing up for the vulnerable, and raising our daughters to do the same.