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Overview

Women’s History Month honors and celebrates the struggles and achievements of American women throughout the history of the United States. American women have struggled throughout our history to gain rights not simply for themselves but for many other under represented and disenfranchised groups in America.

Women’s History Month had its origins in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week".  As requested by Congress, President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 4903 (external link) proclaiming the week beginning on March 7, 1982 as the first "Women’s History Week" and recognizing the vital role of women in American history:

  • American women of every race, creed and ethnic background helped found and build our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways ... As leaders in public affairs, American women not only worked to secure their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity but also were principal advocates in the abolitionist, temperance, mental health reform, industrial labor and social reform movements, as well as the modern civil rights movement.

Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as "Women’s History Week" and authorizing the President to issue a proclamation to inform the country of this recognition and urge the people to study the contributions of women to U.S. history.  In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.”  This law requested the President to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate activities and ceremonies.  President Reagan then issued Presidential Proclamation 5619 (external link) proclaiming March 1987 as "Women’s History Month" and calling upon all Americans to mark the month with observances to honor the achievements of American women.  Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month.

Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamation designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”  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. In 1999 President Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 7170 which celebrated women from journalist Nellie Bly to Fannie Lou Hamer a leader in the Civil Rights movement to Rachel Carson.  In 2008 President Bush issued Presidential Proclamation 8225 declaring the Month of March 2008 as “Women’s History Month.”  This proclamation recognized the achievements of women as diverse as Amelia Earhart, physicist Chien-Shiung Wu and Harriet Tubman who risked her life on the Underground Railway.

Legislative Branch Documents

The public laws between 1981 and 1986 which designate a week in March as "Women’s History Week" are available in the United States Statutes at Large which is available at many Federal depository libraries.  The specific citations are as follows:

  • Pub. L. 97-28, 95 Stat. 148
  • Pub. L. 98-3, 97 Stat. 6
  • Pub. L. 98-227, 98 Stat. 53
  • Pub. L. 99-3, 99 Stat. 5
  • Pub. L. 99-254, 100 Stat. 38

The public laws from 1989 to 1994 which designate the month of March as “Women’s History Month” are also available in the United States Statutes at Large. The enrolled, or final, version of several of these resolutions are available through THOMAS.

The 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in Federal elections in 1920.

The National Archives website has a 19th Amendment page which includes a copy of House Joint Resolution 1 proposing this amendment to the Constitution.

Executive Branch Documents

Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders have been used by presidents to rule on substantive issues of law; to administrate the executive branch of government; and to make general announcements to the public.  These general announcements which exhort the public to observe a holiday such as Thanksgiving or honor a particular group of citizens as in National Black History Month are usually issued in the form of a Presidential Proclamation.  On many occasions Congress will pass a law specifically requesting the President to take certain action such as proclaiming the recognition of a particular group of citizens as Jewish or Hispanic Americans.

Listed below are links to the Presidential Proclamations for "Women’s History Week" or "Women’s History Month" beginning with 1986 along with the citations to the Code of Federal Regulations or the Federal Register, the official publications for Presidential Proclamations.

For more information on Women's History Month see:

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Last Updated: 08/06/2014