March is Women’s history month and March 8th is International Women’s Day. As a woman and a history major, I would like to take a moment to reflect on this month and its meaning, as well as the women who have aided me in getting where I am today both directly and indirectly.
I enjoy the commentary on round table discussions on National Public Radio where commentators routinely question the need and use of celebratory months for things such as Black History and Women’s History. There’s much to be said about naming a particular month in honor of a group that was or is at a disadvantage in society. As if women and Blacks could be assuaged with a month to celebrate their personal existence. But the history geek in me gets excited to see March bring in spring plus awareness of women’s history– a topic that was unheard of let alone studied until recently.
I remember the day I gained awareness of the importance of women’s history. Sophomore year my high school history teacher taught us only one woman in the whole span of world history: Cleopatra. Not to be outdone by a nice but traditional former football coach who was set in his ways, I offered and was allowed to give a lecture on my most favorite woman in history, Queen Elizabeth I. Her 41 years of solitary reign in England, during which time she took the country from inescapable poverty to the most powerful and wealthy country in Europe has inspired my ambitions since I first came across her in sixth grade.
The woman beat the Spanish Armada with a smaller, more impoverished fleet in 1588 and she also managed to organize the Anglican Church and prevent the British from hosting its own holy war between Catholics and Protestants. Queen Elizabeth I was one of those rare breeds of women- centuries before her time, fortunate enough to be born into a high enough class to allow for the cultivation of her mind without question. It probably also helped that her father could only manage to produce one male heir who died at age 15 of Tuberculosis- a great deal of energy had to be put into his daughters if they were to be worthy successors.
Elizabeth rose to the challenge and, as I like to think, outshined all expectations anyone might have held. It’s interesting to note that she was able to successfully run a country during the 1500s without ever marrying. I’m not trying to say that marriage is bad, but it definitely makes you think about viewing it as a necessity for security in this age if women at that time could do it and still succeed. Granted her economic situation placed her in an elite class that most women in the present could never achieve. However, women in our time also have the benefit of the feminist movement which shifted social perspectives enough that single women in their mid-twenties and older are no longer called spinsters and viewed as social pariahs.
I love trying to imagine what Elizabeth must have thought and dealt with on a daily basis. Mostly I love pretending that some of her fortitude and aptitude will rub off on me the more I study her life. I encourage all women my age and younger to look to the past as historians pull more women from the lost accounts of history. Surely there are inspirations for all of us. Hopefully those women who accomplished great feats without things like Title IX or equal opportunity legislation will help force us to see that while we still have a large mountain to climb, our sisters and ancestors have been there and can always lend a helping hand.
– Elisabeth Crum