Monday, March 1, 2010

Celebrate Women’s History Month

What happens emotionally to a U.S. military bomb technician, when his Iraq deployment is over and he comes home to his family in America? The question is answered throughout one of the most talked about and initially dismissed box office hits, “The Hurt Locker.” In a few days, a woman could make history in the world of film for the way she directed “The Hurt Locker.”

If movie director and producer Kathryn Bigelow wins the Oscar for best director, she’ll be the first woman to crack the academy’s 82-year-old glass-ceiling in the best director category. Bigelow’s win would have perfect timing, as March is Women’s History Month.

Without question, we can all name at least five women on a personal or professional level who broke barriers. Whether it was just a woman’s intuition, triumph out of tragedy or an unexplainable thirst to defy odds, history shows us that women are capable of pushing past prejudices, preconceived notions and chauvinistic attitudes.

Long before Rosa Parks silently rebelled against discrimination, journalist Ida B. Wells known for her literary work that challenged anti-lynching in America, chipped away at bigotry. In 1887, Wells lost her legal fight against the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. Wells filed suit against the company because she was forcibly removed from her seat onboard a train, after refusing to sit in the “colored only” section.

The loss became a lightening-rod for Wells. She took the lessons learned from the loss and her experience as a fired school teacher to spring board her career as a respected journalist. Wells became part-owner of the “Memphis Free Speech” newspaper.

Where would the world of medicine be without the groundbreaking work of Alice Hamilton? Hamilton’s studies and reports about the harmful effects of lead, munitions and rubber fostered nationwide improvements in safety standards. As the first woman to become a faculty member of Harvard University in 1919, we can all imagine some of the pain and frustration Hamilton had to endure. However, her determination to excel lead to her also becoming the university’s first professor of public health.

You don’t normally think of a woman when you hear the word ‘sanitation.’ Yet, the accomplishments of Ellen Richards prove we should rethink our word association patterns. As a chemist, educator, and sanitation engineer, Richards was a trailblazer. She was one of the first women admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she graduated in 1873. Richards used her education and experience to pioneer a science program for young women in Boston public schools.

Just as the history-makers of yesterday balanced their roles as homemaker/manager; mother, caregiver, professional, coach, teacher, guardian and disciplinarian, thousands of women continue to carry the torch of success. The purpose of Women’s History Month, adopted in 1987 nationwide, is to highlight and salute the accomplishments of women across the world. Their accomplishments serve as inspiration and motivation.

In the words of James Brown, “this is a man’s world but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl.” I am the first woman in my family to graduate college. What’s your story? I invite you to share your stories about yourself or women in your family who have made history. Please e-mail me your fascinating and inspiring stories at or you can comment on this page.

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