March is Women’s History Month. The month, which is centered around International Women’s Day on March 8, is celebrated with global events honoring the achievements of women and raising awareness for women’s equality.
While International Women’s Day has only been recognized as an official United Nations observance since 1975, its origins date all the way back to 1908, when thousands of women took to the New York City streets to protest working conditions.
In 1909, the U.S. celebrated the first National Women’s Day, honoring the women involved in the protest the year before. Russia joined the celebration and many other nations followed suit not long after.
In 1978, Molly Murphy MacGregor, a schoolteacher from Sonoma County, California, decided to create a Women’s History Week within her district. The idea caught on and suddenly schools across the country were celebrating Women’s History Week.
In Feb. of 1980, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the week of March 8 National Women’s History Week. In the years following, President Reagan issued an annual week-long celebration as well.
Women’s History Month, however, did not get its start until 1987. The Women’s National History Project lobbied to extend the holiday. Finally, Congress passed a proclamation and Women’s History Month was established.
Over the years, Alma College has been fortunate to have many great women on campus. One of these inspirational women is former Alma College librarian, Helen MacCurdy.
Helen MacCurdy donated her home to the college to be used as a residence for Alma College women, as well as a resource center, providing information about women’s and gender rights and history.
The residence is home to an extensive collection of literary and media resources. When the building was renovated in 1992, retired Michigan State University women’s studies coordinator, Dr. Joanne Rettke donated her own collection of resource materials.
Today, residents of the MacCurdy House are tasked with creating and organizing volunteer opportunities. Over the years, the house has welcomed many guest speakers and writers, including Eve Ensler, Lucille Clifton and Dorothy Allison.
Kaitlyn Stymiest (’22) admires Professor of Religious Studies, Kathryn Blanchard. “She is an extremely great professor and one of the wisest, kindest people I have met,” said Stymiest.
Another influential woman in Stymiest’s life is her sorority president, Lexy Maas. “How she manages [the sorority] is a mystery to me, but she does it with grace. She is overall such a hard-worker and such a light in our lives.”
Alma College history professor Liping Bu has also been a positive influence in Stymiest’s life here at Alma, “I adored her class. She carries herself with the greatest dignity and a sense of humor to match.”
Women’s History Month is an important time for Kayla Schmitz (’21). “[It] means making extra time to appreciate, learn about and empower women from all walks of life,” Schmitz said.
Schmitz admires Professor of English and Gender Studies Prathim-Maya Dora-Laskey, who doubles as Schmitz academic advisor. Schmitz also feels fortunate to have learned from former Professor of Communication, Joanne Gilbert.
In addition to her professors, Schmitz looks up to her boss at the Alma College Bookstore/Mailroom, Ashley Strawn and the women custodians she worked with at Facilities and Service Management.
Schmitz also adds, “I try my best to be my most authentic self, to consistently educate myself and others and try to stand up for myself in any situation. That is what I have learned from these women and what I try to emulate on a daily basis.”