When you cracked open a history book as a child in school, you were likely not overwhelmed by the number of women staring back at you.
You probably memorized the order of kings and presidents, the advisors and warriors, the leaders who shaped the world. Unless a woman was deemed particularly exemplary – the occasional queen perhaps – mentions of women might be sparing. Women, unfortunately, are often an afterthought in our history books. With thousands of years to condense into consumable bits it is an understandable dilemma. Of course only so much information can be compiled and taught at one time. All too often it is the women of history who are left out in the cold. Until this changes in the education system, it falls onto the shoulders of others to tell their tales.
Indeed these stories must be told because women’s history is, stated plainly, the history of the world. You cannot understand a nation without examining the treatment, rank, and influence of women in society. It is the crucial context that, if ignored, leaves half the picture blank. But I believe many people already know you cannot really learn history if you neglect half the population. This is not groundbreaking information, it just hasn’t made it into enough curriculums. So while accurately representing the past is important, women’s history is perhaps more important for shaping the future.
Women of all ages will find inspiration in the stories of their ancestors – the strides they made, their hard-won achievements, how they handled the struggles they faced in life. A perfect example is that of Madam CJ Walker, a woman born in 1867 in abject poverty to former-slaves. With a passion for business, she decided to start her own line of haircare products for African-American women. When the world discriminated against her for her sex and skin color, she persisted and became a self-made millionaire. Her story must be told for historical accuracy, yes, but also to inspire today’s women to understand their own power and ability to change their lives for the better. Women’s history is a constant state of overcoming obstacles. We cannot help but be inspired by it.
I first came to love women’s history while in high school when I found Henry VIII’s wives far more interesting than him. Their ability to shape the nation and influence the king introduced me to the secret world of women – wives and mistresses who controlled the realm even without direct power, queens and empresses who navigated their reign through prejudiced ideas. Their lives were more relatable to me and sparked an interest in history that progressed into a passion for sharing their stories. My decision to pursue a degree in history is thanks to these long-gone women. Truly, women of history are guiding my life.
Organizations like the Women’s Museum of California that preserve women’s history are so important to support. We in present times are in the unique position of curating what bits of history we teach. We are tasked with preserving the past and inspiring the future. Let us not leave out women or else we are condemning our children to ignorance of half of the very world. And, perhaps worse, denying them the stories that will drive them to become the best people they can possibly be.
Dena, Guest Blogger
This is post is part of our #WomensHistoryBecause campaign where we ask people “Why is Women’s History important to you?” Join us on Social Media on August 26th to join the conversation and to celebrate Women’s Equality Day.