Why Do We Celebrate Women’s History Month?
Women’s History Month is a dedicated month to reflect on the often-overlooked contributions of women to United States history. From Abigail Adams to Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth to Rosa Parks, the timeline of women’s history milestones stretches back to the founding of the United States.
The actual celebration of Women’s History Month grew out of a weeklong celebration of women’s contributions to culture, history and society organized by the school district of Sonoma, California, in 1978. Presentations were given at dozens of schools, hundreds of students participated in a “Real Woman” essay contest and a parade was held in downtown Santa Rosa.
A few years later, the idea had caught on within communities, school districts and organizations across the country. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. The U.S. Congress followed suit the next year, passing a resolution establishing a national celebration. Six years later, the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to expand the event to the entire month of March.
International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women, took place for the first time on March 8, 1911. Many countries around the world celebrate the holiday with demonstrations, educational initiatives and customs such as presenting women with gifts and flowers.
The United Nations has sponsored International Women’s Day since 1975. When adopting its resolution on the observance of International Women’s Day, the United Nations General Assembly cited the following reasons: “To recognize the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women; and to acknowledge the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security.”
Women’s History Month Theme
The National Women’s History Alliance designates a yearly theme for Women’s History Month. The 2022 theme is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” This theme is “both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.”
Black Women, Pioneers and Leaders Who Have Impacted Medicine
In keeping with this year’s theme for Women’s History Month, here are Black women featured in the United States National Library of Medicine’s exhibit Rise, Serve, Lead: America’s Women Physicians. Let us celebrate Women’s History Month by learning
more about these women, their stories, and their contributions to medicine.
Rebecca Crumpler, MD: Dr. Crumpler was the first Black woman in the US to earn an MD. She became a doctor in 1864 and published a book of medical advice for women and children in 1883.
Rebecca Cole, MD: Dr. Cole was the second Black woman to earn an MD. She practiced medicine for
Helen Octavia Dickens, MD: In 1950, Dr. Dickens became the first Black woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons.
Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD: Dr. Gaston was the first Black woman to lead a public health service bureau. Her study on sickle cell anemia led to a nationwide screening program for newborns.
Dorothy Ferebee, MD: Dr. Ferebee was an advocate for racial equality and women’s healthcare. She was the medical director of the Mississippi Health Project, bringing state and federal resources to impoverished Black communities in the rural South during the Great Depression.
Matilda Evans, MD: Dr. Evans was the first Black woman to practice medicine in South Carolina, and she founded the Taylor Lane Hospital.
Edith Irby Jones, MD: In 1985, Dr. Jones was the first woman to be elected president of the National Medical Association.
Joan Y. Reede, MD: Dr. Reede works to promote better healthcare policies for minority populations and recruits minority students to the biomedical field.
Virginia M. Alexander, MD: In 1931, Dr. Alexander founded the Aspiranto Health Home in her own house and cared for the most vulnerable members of her community.
Ethel Allen, MD: In addition to her medical career, Dr. Allen was elected to Philadelphia’s City Council and was eventually made Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. She described herself as “BFR—a black, female, Republican. An entity as rare as a black elephant and just as smart.”
Patricia Bath, MD: Dr. Bath was an ophthalmologist, laser scientist, research scientist, and advocate for blindness prevention. She invented laserphaco, a device and technique for cataract surgery. She also created the discipline of community ophthalmology, and in 1983, she became the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency in the United States.
Lillian M. Beard, MD: Dr. Beard is a pediatrician who uses modern media to make “house calls,” reaching an audience of patients at home.
G. Valerie Beckles-Neblett, MD: Dr. Beckles-Neblett is a network medical director for Aetna Southwest, managing medical costs and patient services. She also leads medical missions abroad.
Regina Marcia Benjamin, MD: Dr. Benjamin served as the 18th US Surgeon General, under President Barack Obama. She is the founder and CEO of BayouClinic on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.
JudyAnn Bigby, MD: Dr. Bigby served as the director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Excellence in Women’s Health and is nationally recognized for her work educating physicians in providing care to people with histories of substance abuse.
Clara Arena Brawner, MD: In the mid-1950s, Dr. Brawner was the only Black physician practicing in Memphis, Tennessee.
Dorothy Lavinia Brown, MD: Dr. Brown was the first Black woman surgeon in the South and the first Black woman to be made a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
U. Diane Buckingham, MD: Dr. Buckingham began her medical career as a registered nurse, but she then became a doctor and psychiatrist.
Judith Martin Cadore, MD: Dr. Cadore is on a mission to eliminate healthcare disparities in rural Texas.
Alexa Irene Canady, MD: In 1981, Dr. Canady became the first Black woman to become a neurosurgeon in the United States.
Donna M. Christian-Christensen, MD: In addition to practicing family medicine, Dr. Christian-Christensen served nine terms in the US House of Representatives as the delegate from the US Virgin Islands.
Sadye Beatryce Curry, MD: In 1972, Dr. Curry became the first Black woman to become a gastroenterologist.