Speaking of the importance of Black women’s suffrage, activist Nannie Helen Burroughs said the world “will find her a tower of strength of which poets have never sung, orators have never spoken, and scholars have never written” (The Crisis, 1915).
Today, just a few weeks after Ketanji Brown Jackson was named as President Joe Biden’s nominee to the Supreme Court, thousands of articles have been written about her. Young Black students across the country will be able to see themselves in her as she appears before congress, in the news, and perhaps on the bench of the Supreme Court.
This historic victory is a moment to celebrate and also to reflect on the many stories of women who were towers of strength throughout history, but are often left out of traditional textbooks. Sarah Winnemucca, of the Northern Paiute peoples worked as a translator which empowered her to advocate on behalf of Indigenous rights to diverse audiences. Mary Edwards Walker was the first female surgeon in the United States, whose service during the Civil War (and capture by Confederate troops), led to her being awarded the Medal of Honor, the only woman who has received the award to this day.
At Newsela, we recognize the importance of weaving diverse voices throughout students’ educational experiences. To celebrate Women’s History Month, and every month, we lift up the diverse contributions of women, past and present and provide students and teachers opportunities to surface these too-often hidden histories.
To demonstrate women’s resourcefulness, one collection tells the stories of how women have found pathways to challenge patriarchal power structures. For example, students can learn about Indigenous women who are “decolonizing” American museums by telling the rich history of Indigenous peoples, including the central role women played as keepers of culture and nurturers of community.
Another collection on innovators, displays the ways in which women have contributed, or led efforts in, major scientific advancements. Their accomplishments not only blazed trails, but widened those paths for future generations of women to travel. Students can read about award-winning nuclear physicist Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, who changed how the whole scientific community understands the laws of physics; as well as the several women who helped build the NASA space program, and go into space today, like Tracy Drain and Ellen Ochoa. Likewise, students have an opportunity to not only learn about female World War II fighter pilots, but also the real Rosie the Riveters behind the famous ad campaign, which included both Black and white women workers.
All students deserve to see themselves reflected back in what they learn. Though we celebrate women’s historical role during the month of March, students should have the opportunity to learn about diverse women’s voices throughout the school year, and indeed, throughout the different subjects they study. By profiling women’s diverse roles in history, tackling both the unique and shared challenges faced by communities, all students see how people like themselves can shape history.