BY ELISA WALLACE COPPEDE
From breaking the proverbial “glass ceiling” of the White House to advocating for women’s right to vote, there are many great women we all must thank for trailblazing the beaten path for gender equality for us all.
The month-long celebration began as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28, which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.” Over the course of the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” Finally, in 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9, which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.”
Over the years, presidents have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” These proclamations celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States, as well as recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields. Let’s look at five specific women who broke barriers for us all:
Rosa Parks: A simple act really, not wanting to change her bus seat for another person, Parks’ courageous act in 1955 sparked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1950s, the rule in Montgomery, Alabama, was that if a bus became full, the seats at the front would be given to the white passengers. A leader in the local NAACP and the civil rights movement, Parks refused to give up her seat. Her willingness to disobey the rule would lead to the Montgomery boycott and other efforts to end segregation in America.
Amelia Earhart: An American aviation pioneer and author, Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The pilot set many other records, as well as wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences. Tragically, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan went missing during the last leg of her flight around the world. Battling overcast skies, faulty radio transmissions, and a rapidly diminishing fuel supply in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra plane, she and Noonan lost contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, a radar equipped ship supporting her flight, somewhere over the Pacific. Despite a search-and-rescue mission of unprecedented scale, including ships and planes from the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard scouring some 250,000 square miles of ocean, they were never found.
Rita Moreno: It was not common to see female Latinas on the “silver screen” during the 1950s. With this said, it was a big step when in 1961, the film adaptation of The West Side Story featured Rita Moreno. This movie rocketed Moreno into superstardom, and she went on to work in Hollywood and on Broadway in numerous roles. Today, she is still the only Latino to earn the coveted EGOT (she’s won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony).
Junko Tabei: Always nurturing a love for the mountains, Junko Tabei was a mountaineer who shattered gender norms in 1975, when she became the first woman to successfully climb Mount Everest. Tabei strengthened her legacy by later becoming the first woman ever to reach the Seven Peaks (the highest points of the earth’s seven continents) in 1992. An author and a hiker, Tabei would write seven books, organize environmental projects to clean up rubbish left behind by climbers on Everest, and lead annual climbs up Mount Fuji for youth affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Ellen DeGeneres: The popular talk show host shocked the world when she openly came out as a lesbian on her sitcom, “Ellen,” in 1997. This iconic “Coming Out” episode played a large part in beginning to erase the stigma surrounding the LGBT community. DeGeneres has gone on to help the community in other ways, including humanitarianism and animal rights.