History will long remember 2021 for many reasons, not the least is the sound of the glass ceiling starting to shatter. With the swearing-in of Kamala Harris as vice president of the United States, the role of women in politics, as in other fields, is bigger than ever.
Additionally, women make up just over a quarter of all members of the 117th Congress — the highest percentage in U.S. history and a considerable increase from where things stood even a decade ago, according to Pew Research. Counting both the House of Representatives and the Senate, 144 of 539 seats — or 27% — are held by women. That represents a 50% increase from the 96 women who were serving in the 112th Congress a decade ago, though it remains far below the female portion of the overall U.S. population.
March is Women's History Month, which originated as a national celebration in 1981, when Congress requested that the president proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as Women's History Week. These proclamations celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields.
Women have played a pivotal role in our national development, and it's amazing to me, as a student of history, that we haven't heard more of their stories. In the 19th century, Elizabeth Blackwell was rejected by 29 medical schools. When she went to visit the schools in person, she was told she should pretend to be a man, because women weren't fit to receive medical schooling. She refused.
The dean and faculty of Hobart College (then Geneva Medical College) put her candidacy up for a vote with the 150 men currently enrolled. The school decided that if even one person objected, Blackwell would be denied admission. The 150 men thought the vote was a joke and unanimously voted to accept her. The joke was on them. Blackwell was accepted, and she matriculated. Many doctors refused to work with her, but she persevered and graduated.
Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849. She then built a medical practice, created a place where women could have medical internships (because many health care facilities didn't welcome women), served impoverished families and established the first medical college for women.
How much do you know about women in history? Take this quiz and learn something about their roles.
Q: Which mother led a 125-mile march of child workers from the mills of Pennsylvania to President Theodore Roosevelt's vacation home on Long Island?
A: Mary Harris Jones, who became known as Mother Jones and led the march in 1903 to call attention to the evils of child labor.
Q: What did Dolores Huerta do for farmworkers in the United States?
A: Huerta, a labor activist, co-founded the United Farm Workers Union in 1962 and served for more than 20 years.
Q: Which Asian American physicist disproved a fundamental scientific law?
A: Chien-Shiung Wu came to the United States to study science and became the world's foremost female experimental physicist. Her most famous experiment showed that the principle of conservation of parity could be violated in nature.
Mackay's Moral: Borrowed from Juliette Gordon Low — "The work of today is the history of tomorrow, and we are its makers."
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.