Women’s (Missing) History Month: Celebrating the #GalaxyofWomen

By Molly Dillon, Rosie Rios, and Megan Smith

“Through out history, women have driven humanity forward on the path to a more equal and just society, contributing in innumerable ways to our character and progress as a people.” –President Obama

In honor of Women’s History Month, help us kick-off the discovery, sharing and celebration of the “Galaxy of Women” on whose shoulders we all stand.

There are countless untold stories of phenomenal women from diverse backgrounds who have changed the course of human history. The stories of their leadership, contributions, insights, discoveries, writings, inventions and more have been lost, overshadowed, or misattributed. Over time, these stories become quieted by the passing of years without the passing of a torch. Without protectors of history, these stories may be lost forever.

Outreach for the 1913 Suffrage Parade — Photo Credit: Library of Congress

In his 2016 Women’s History Month Proclamation, President Obama calls on all Americans to honor the “trailblazers of the past, including the women who are not recorded in our history books.” Visibility is an important theme embedded in the upcoming White House United State of Women Summit (#USWomen) which will be held on May 23 in Washington, DC.

Women’s history, women’s stories are more than just a feature-“ette” in your textbook. Women’s history is American history. It’s big, it’s small, it’s inclusive, it changed lives, it solved problems, and it took place all over the world — and quite likely in your own backyard. Yet all too often, women’s stories are a missing part of our history.

Stories We Found in Our Backyard

You may not know that a big part of women securing the right to vote took place in our backyard here at the White House… Basically we can’t walk anywhere around here without walking in the footsteps of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

For example, take the 19th Amendment, which established the right to vote for women. In school, we memorize the year it became law, we hear the word “suffragists,” and see a few photos. But we know few details about the movement. Did you know that suffragists were the first people in U.S. history to picket the White House as part of their efforts to gain equal voting rights for women? With the way we commemorate our history, you might never know. Today, in Lafayette Park across from their historic protest site, the statue clusters celebrate men who helped build our democracy. It’s wonderful that women are included in those statue clusters to represent Victory, Commemoration and other archetypes. But, it would also be great if actual women were depicted, too. Celebrations of women, their lives, and achievements are missing from most public spaces.

Suffragists, known as the “Silent Sentinels,” were the first Americans to picket the White House in U.S. history. They stood for suffrage from January 1917 through June 1919. Hundreds of women from different state rotated duties — many went to jail, some were beaten and force fed during hunger strikes. — Photo Credit: Library of Congress

The National Women’s Party set-up headquarters across from the White House on Jackson Place (current home of the United State Digital Service). Did you know that from there, they supported and organized hundreds of women risking their freedom and safety to picket the White House from 1917 to 1919 including participating in hunger strikes from jail — joined by thousands across the country marching, picketing, lobbying, and speaking out for suffrage and women’s equality overall? On November 14, 1917, the “Night of Terror” many women were arrested and sent to Occoquan Workhouse Prison just across the Potomac River in Virginia. (Look that one up!)

Did you know that the first public act by the founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a predominately African American Sorority, was their participation in the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession? Did you know the Procession took place at all? National Women’s Party founder Alice Paul, who championed the Federal strategy for women’s suffrage, led the organizing of the 1913 parade and the later White House protests— nearly 5,000 women and men from across the U.S. filled Pennsylvania Avenue the day before the Inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, marching from Capitol Hill to the U.S. Treasury, demanding the right to vote.

Program Cover for the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession — Photo Credit: Library of Congress
Ida B. Wells marches with the Illinois Delegation at the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession — Photo Credit: Chicago Daily Tribune
Marchers at the 1913 Suffrage Parade, Washington, DC — Photo Credit: Library of Congress
1913 Suffrage March Lineup, Washington, DC — Photo Credit: Library of Congress
Marchers at the 1913 Suffrage Parade, Washington, DC — Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Did you know that Suffragists journeyed from around the country to join the 1913 procession? One large group, led by second generation suffragist Rosalie Jones, traveled from Hudson Terminal in New York City to Washington, DC — a grueling trek that took nearly a month and spanned more than 220 miles. Jones was dubbed “General Jones” and the press called the group, “The Army of the Hudson.”

Hiker walk and ride from New York to Washington, DC to join the March 1913 Suffrage Parade, led by Rosalie Jones — photo: February 12, 1913 Newark, New Jersey — Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Finding the (Missing) History of Women in American History

American Women’s Rights leader Susan B. Anthony speaking at the 34th annual convention of women’s suffrage associations in 1902, addressed the crowd expressing the “gratification she felt in the ‘wonderful galaxy of women at the convention and the progress of her loved cause.’”[1] We love that expression — noting that there is a ‘galaxy of women’ who have contributed as an equal part to our world history. Anthony is one of the bright stars in the spectacular and vast galaxy she spoke of.

To lift up other important stories from the galaxy, the White House launched the Untold History of Women in Science and Technology project, where leaders from across the Administration share stories of technical women who inspired them in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) —we are Shining a Light on Untold Stories in STEM this week rolling out a new set of online stories.

Women in STEM- hear their stories: Untold stories of Women in STEM

Additionally, this year, the National Archives hosted its 9th annual McGowan Forum on Women in Leadership: From the Computer Age to the Digital Age, which began with a mini-film festival and conversation to highlight technical women inventors and leaders from the early computer age — — many of whose stories have been excluded from the American cannon.

Last fall, we also launched a treasure hunt for the original copy of Declaration of Sentiments, one of the earliest comprehensive documents written on women’s rights — the foundational document drafted and ratified in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848 during the First Women’s Right Convention — — and it’s currently missing. Because of allies like Frederick Douglas who was amongst the 100 signers, we have not lost the text of the Declaration so we can bring its content back into public conscious, but the artifact may be gone and who knows how many more important stories may be missing, on the verge of extinction, or even gone forever.

That’s why we need your help.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” — Hamilton on Broadway

The White House is calling on Americans across the country to find and share these stories— visit important sites in U.S. history and find the women. Document with photos and share your travels using geotags, #MissingHistory and #GalaxyofWomen.

Share the stories of women throughout our nation’s history — both the ones that we know and the ones that we should. Connect with the physical spaces where history was made. Gather your friends for an afternoon excursion or a cross-country road trip (remember the suffrage hikes!). Explore the rich heritage Americans have inherited from brave men AND women. Find strength in the progress of the past to keep fighting for a more equal and just future. Take a young person with you as part of #EveryKidInAPark. Just a few ideas include:

  • Not too far from the White House, check out Grace Murray Hopper Park, named for the tenured math professor Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper who invented computer programming languages (COBOL).
  • Venture north to Brooklyn College, where Shirley Chisolm earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 1946, on her way to becoming the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1969.
  • Travel south to Savannah, Georgia and visit the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District — where Low started the Girls Scouts of the USA.
  • Visit the Great Plains, where Ola Mildred Rexroat is honored at the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame in Box Elder, SD. Rexroat, an Oglala Sioux from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, was the only Native American woman to serve in the Women Airforce Service Pilots with many women from across the U.S. including Californian physicist Maggie Gee.
  • Head West to Keene, California where Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association and where there headquarters still stands.

The possibilities are endless. We’re looking forward to seeing all of your amazing photos.

The White House has even kicked it off with our own visit to a key #MissingHistory site in the #GalaxyofWomen

1917 Silent Sentinels protest in front of the White House’s north fence — Photo Credit: Library of Congress
2016 White House staffers stand in front of the White House’s north fence commemorating Women’s Suffrage protests of 1917–1919 — Photo Credit: The White House

Stars are lights from the past that guide our way today. So too are the stars in our #GalaxyOfWomen. Now get out there and explore!

Molly Dillon is a Policy Advisor and Special Assistant for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity, White House Domestic Policy Council

Rosie Rios is the Treasurer of the United States, U.S. Department of the Treasury

Megan Smith is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

[1] Harper, Ida Husted. History of Woman Suffrage. New York: Arno/New York Times, 1969. Print.