Every year, we celebrate Women’s History Month to honor the accomplishments of women, from everyday individuals to those who have changed the world. Every year, however, the question arises on why we need a month to highlight these achievements, especially in the United States where women are legally equal. The answer is quite simple: even if we have gender equality now, that’s not how it’s always been. Historically, women have been considered second class citizens in American society. The Civil Rights Act, which guarantees equality in public places, schools, and employment, was not passed until 1964. Many elements of traditional education from the sixties still appear in the modern curriculum. Therefore, these established male-centered studies somewhat undermine the contributions of women. An Upper Merion Student weighed in with why women are overlooked in history: “I think it’s a fear of change and an attachment to tradition and practices of the past. For whatever reason, women have been overlooked and seen as secondary and people who grew up in a misogynist society grew up to be… misogynistic.”
This month we celebrate the forgotten women of history, here are a few that you should know about:
Dr. Paulina Luisi was not only a prominent leader of the feminist movement in Uruguay, but a teacher, editor, and physician. Dr. Luisi was the first woman to graduate as a surgeon from the University of Uruguay in 1908. She was also the first Latin American woman to be a representative in the League of Nations. She served as a delegate of Uruguay to advocate for the protection of women and children in human trafficking (Thorpe, 2021). In her magazine Acción Femenina, she described how women must go beyond the box society puts them in and pursue careers that prove their intellectual capabilities, “…demonstrating that woman is something more than material created to serve and obey man like a slave… it must be done with a mind and a heart prepared to be a mother and an educator; that she must be the man’s partner and counselor, not his slave” (Acción Femenina, 1917).
Andree Borrell served in World War II as an agent in the French Resistance and Special Operations Executive, also known as SOE. Borrell stood up against Nazi Germany by collecting information and sabotaging the Axis powers. She helped organize escape networks for Jews, British soldiers, and SOE agents in German-occupied France. She also served as a nurse for the Red Cross and Association des Dames Françaises. Borrell died fighting for her cause, as she was executed by the Gestapo in 1944 (Kramer, 1995), but her contributions in the war were pivotal for the success of the Allied Powers.
Angela Morely was a composer that won many awards for her musical arrangements. She won three Emmy Awards in the Outstanding Music Direction category from 1985 to 1990. Morley was nominated twice in the Academy Awards for Best Original Score. This made her the first openly transgender person to be nominated for this award (Betacourt, 2020). Angela Morely, as one of the first openly transgender composers, made important strides for the LGBT community in her lifetime.
This month, take time to acknowledge the women that are changing the world, in big and small ways. Make sure to appreciate the sacrifices of past women that have created the (mostly) equal society we have today.