Alexandria Celebrates Women: The evolution of Women’s History Month

Alexandria Celebrates Women: The evolution of Women’s History Month
File photo Mary and Emily Edmonson were sisters held in Alexandria’s Bruin Slave Jail. After attempting to escape, the sisters would become strong voices in the abolitionist movement.

By Gayle Converse and Pat Miller

They carry, deliver and raise human beings. They govern nations. They run businesses. They fight in combat. They save lives. Women are quite amazing.

Next month, events in Alexandria, the United States and the world will honor all women.

The designation of March as Women’s History Month came about slowly, over the course of 111 years. First a day was proclaimed, then a week and finally the entire month.

International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women, was first held in 1911. The United Nations General Assembly has been sponsoring International Women’s Day, March 8, since 1975. In the U.S., PresidentJimmy Carterwas the first to proclaim the week of March 8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week. The next year, the U.S. Congress confirmed the observance. The expansion to Women’s History Month occurred after the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress in 1987.

Twelve years ago, the U.N. voted unanimously to create the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, which would become known as U.N. Women. As part of the U.N. Reform Agenda, the new branch was designed to bring together resources and mandates to recognize and empower women worldwide.

The U.N. Women International Women’s Day theme for 2022 is “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow.” The U.N. will recognize “the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation and response, to build a more sustainable future for all.” Multiple organizations have similar rallying cries for this year: “Break the Bias” and “Women Providing Healing; Promoting Hope.”

More than a century has passed since the celebration of the first International Women’s Day, yet despite the discoveries, bravery, dedication and talents of women around the world, women often must continue to endure second-class status and civil and human rights violations.

There have been advancements, even as the Equal Rights Amendment remains in limbo and the nation’s maternal mortality rate remains high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 700 women die in the U.S. each year because of “pregnancy or delivery complications.” But glass ceilings are beginning to crack globally: 40% of U.S. businesses are owned by women, according to the Women’s Businesses Enterprise National Council.

In honor of next month’s celebration, let’s look back at some of the American milestones in women’s history.

1920: The U.S. ratifies the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. It was almost a half century later that American women of color were allowed equal access to the ballot box. The 100th anniversary of the Supreme Court defending women’s right to vote will occur on Feb. 27.

1981: Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

1983: Sally Ride becomes the first American woman to go into space.

2016: Hillary Clinton is the first woman nominated for president by a major political party.

2020: Kamala Harris is sworn in as the first woman vice president of the U.S.

Meanwhile, in Virginia:

1587: Virginia Dare is the first child of the North American continent, born to English settlers in what was then the Colony of Virginia and is now present day North Carolina.

1596 (est.): Amonute is born in Tidewater, Virginia. Given the nickname “Pocahontas” which meant “playful one,” she is the legendary rescuer of Captain John Smith.

1731: Martha Washington is born. She would become the wife of the first U.S. president, George Washington. Alexandria also has plenty to celebrate when it comes to women’s history.

Here is a small sampling of the countless free and enslaved women achievers in our city’s history.

1601: Margaret Brent is born in England and is the first woman on the North American continent to ask for women’s right to vote. Brent becomes a landowner of much of what is present day Alexandria.

1848: Mary and Emily Edmondson were sisters held at the Bruin Slave Jail in Alexandria, returned to imprisonment after a daring attempt to escape. The sisters would become tireless abolitionists.

1857: Kate Waller Barrett is born. This Alexandrian would become a social reformer, physician, philanthropist, mother and suffragist.

1991: Patsy Ticer becomes the first elected female mayor in Alexandria’s history, later serving as a state senator. Alexandria women – and all women – really are amazing.

The writer are founders of Alexandria Celebrates Women, a nonprofit that highlights influential women throughout the city’s history. Contact them at