Women’s history is still a neglected subject in the American consciousness with the majority of people in this country admitting they know nothing of women from the past.
A recent survey from the National Women’s History Museum found that Americans are largely ill informed when it comes to knowing anything about our nation’s heroines. According to the NWHM, only “one in four Americans can name the accomplishments of Elizabeth Blackwell, Ida B. Wells or Sybil Ludington, whereas more than three quarters of respondents are familiar with the achievements of Neil Armstrong, Frederick Douglass and Paul Revere”.
In January, Slate published an article about a study they did on the most popular history books in 2015. One of the objectives of the study was to find out how many biographies were written by men and how many biographies were written by women. They found that male authors wrote 75.8 percent of the history books in the study. Other numbers included 71.7 percent of history books classified as biographies were about men, 69 percent of female biographers wrote about women and only 9 percent of male biographers wrote about women.
Being exposed to women’s history is important. It helps young girls and women find a place in the story of this country, it helps inspire future Amelia Earharts, Margaret Hamiltons, and Ida B Wells. History teaches us who we are, and how we got here. It frames our existence in the wider picture of the present. But if we write out or ignore the accomplishments of women scientists, explorers, politicians and artists then our perception of what we as women are capable of and what our dreams can be for the future grow dim. We need to continue to shine a light on women of the past in order to show young girls that they can make a positive difference in their communities in the present and future.
The Slate article and NWHM survey have inspired me to take up a new challenge for 2016.
For the rest of the year I will read at least one book per month about a woman, written by a woman. For my first book in the month the February I have chosen Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. I’d love it if you took up the challenge as well. Tweet me your favorite books about historical women or keep me updated on your progress if you take up my 2016 books about women, by women challenge.
Remember if you are a member of the Women’s Museum of California you have access to our library of over 4,000 works on women’s history, reproductive rights, biographies, politics and more.