By Dean Scott Ryan
School of Social Work
Millennials born between 1981-1996 and Generation Zers born 1997-2012 have lived with very different public images of women than their parents’ or grandparents’ generations: There is a woman vice president of the United States, an outgoing woman speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a Congress comprised of the greatest number of women in American history.
These are notable political gains by women over the last couple of decades. It remains to be studied, however, whether these historic achievements by women are sustainable. It’s all about the money.
“Few studies of gender and elections focus on money in politics,” said Professor Kira Sanbonmatsu, a senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers-New Brunswick. “Without resources, it’s hard to wage a successful campaign.”
A lack of resources may deter some women from seeking elective office. “Women may not even enter a race in the first place,” Professor Sanbonmatsu said in a news release marking Women’s History Month. Further, “political gatekeepers may be less likely to get behind potential women candidates unless they are perceived as strong fundraisers,” she said.
Such being the case, the professor argues women’s voices in politics have yet to be fully realized. Her work is precisely the kind of study often highlighted during Women’s History Month. If it was released during any other month, the study might have been lost in the news shuffle.
Other enlightening information focusing on women’s issues also has come to light this month. One example is a look at who is not included in some historical narratives of women’s history.
Take a peek, for example, at History.com’s authoritative timeline, Women’s History Milestones. On it, suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two white women commonly viewed as godmothers of the women’s rights movement, are archived front and center.
Abolitionist Sojourner Truth and civil rights leader Rosa Parks are mentioned on the timeline; but many other notable Black women, are not. There’s a 100-year gap between the two women.
Black women suffragists are, archivally speaking, simply missing in action on the timeline.
Of course, not that they weren’t there. The 22 founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority - Black women who were colleagues at Howard University in Washington, D.C.– were present and marched on March 13, 1913, in the Women’s Suffrage Parade.
They were the only Black women’s organization there. It would have been hard to miss them. Among them were Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, at the time, already well-established voices for women’s rights.
Wells-Barnett, Terrell and their fellow sorority sisters refused to march in the back of the Women’s Suffrage Parade as they had been instructed by their white counterparts.
“They were called names, and they were told, ‘Go back home, you don’t belong here,’ which sounds familiar today,” said Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, a past president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in an article in The Washington Informer. “But they knew that this was the right thing to do. They knew that they were sending a message to future generations to fight for your freedom.”
Such omissions are the very reason emerging Social Workers should engage in activities observing Women’s History Month. They should commit themselves to learning and uncovering missing voices from the narratives of women’s history.
Until all women’s voices are included in American history, Women’s History Month, still, is relevant.
Scott D. Ryan
Dean and Professor
School of Social Work
The University of Texas at Arlington
History.com: Women’s History Milestones-A Timeline
Nation Park Service: African American Women and the 19th Amendment
National Park Service (nps.gov): A Noble Endeavor: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Suffrage