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Girl Power: 5 Powerful Women in History

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In 1973, Janice Law Trecker conducted a study assessing how women were being portrayed in U.S High School History Textbooks. The article, Women in US History High School Textbooks, highlights the results of that study. The study focused on female representation during colonial and revolutionary times, education, the women’s rights movement and suffrage, reform movements, abolition and the Civil War, labor, the frontier, both World Wars, family patterns, intellectual and cultural trends, as well as the current for the study - 1970s - position of women in society. 

Her analysis found that at the time, textbooks not only omitted many women in history, they downplayed the adversities they faced based on their social, legal and cultural differences. Her research noted that efforts had been made to increase Black History content, yet it mostly focused on the achievements of black men. Trecker’s call to action: a new attitude that “breaks away from the bias of traditional views of women and their `place’, and attempts to treat both women and men as partners in their society.” 

A little over a decade later, in 1986, Mary Kay Thompson Tetreault published a follow-up article, Integrating Women’s history: The Case of United States History High School Textbooks, which served as a report card on the status of women’s representation in U.S. History  textbooks published since 1979 in response to Trecker’s call to action. 

Revising incomplete and stereotypical history

Tetreault observed that attempts had been made since the 1970s to right the picture of women in history, yet what had been added to textbooks was more of a supplement to history instead of integrating with history. Additionally, she found that “copy and visuals which can be properly categorized as women’s or relational history [were] miniscule.” Ultimately, Tetrault stated that in order to assist women to think of their own situations in history, our textbooks must be rid of stereotypical thinking. 

What changes have occured over the decades? 

Fast forward three decades. The National Women’s History Museum released A Report on the Status of Women in the United States Social Studies Standards in 2017. Scholars from the National Women’s History Museum analyzed standards from all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. The goal, to understand how women’s history is being characterized and to identify if women are being excluded in the standards’ framework. After all, the report notes, textbook companies rely on state standards when creating and developing content. 

The National Women’s History Museum’s report found that standards prioritize women for national or regional accomplishments, further emphasizing the importance of leadership. State standards address a small sample of topics and groups. Standards overemphasize women’s domestic roles and do not reflect current trends or ideals in society and education. When looking at women referenced in History standards, 63% of women are White, 25% are African American, 8% are Hispanic, 4% Native American/Alaskan and less than 1% of Asian American or Pacific Islander race, which only highlights one individual from Hawaii. 

The report stresses that while women might not be mentioned within a standard, that does not mean they must be excluded. Educators should include women and their experiences into their curriculum while meeting the standard’s goals. Overall, the National Women’s History Museum’s hope is that “this report will inspire teachers, scholars, students, and parents to examine the ways in which women’s historical experiences are presented in classrooms.”  

Here is a great place to start. 

Five Women Who Made an Impact in History

1. Dolores Huerta, Activist and Labor Leader

Huerta worked to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers while also fighting against discrimination. Having grown up as the daughter of immigrant farm workers, Huerta had experienced, first-hand,  many of the issues she has stood up against. She started the Agricultural Workers Association in 1960 which eventually combined with the National Farm Workers Association and became the United Farm Workers. 

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2. Malala Yousavzai, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Malala Yousavzai made headlines as the youngest person to receive the honor.  From a young age, Malala saw herself as an advocate for girls’ education. She gave speeches and blogged about her own experiences living under constant threats to her education from the Taliban. In 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as she was traveling home from school. After surviving the attack, she continued to advocate for education and women’s rights. 

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3. Loreta Velazquez, Cuban Immigrant and Fearless Fighter

Disguising herself as a man, under the name of Harry T. Budord, Velazquez chose to fight as a Confederate soldier. During the war, she served as a spy for the Union as a double agent. Her experiences were documented in her memoir, “The Woman in Battle.” Her story’s veracity has often been debated, though plenty of evidence exists to confirm her identity.

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4. Lucy Craft Laney, Influential Educational Leader

Georgia-born Laney grew up in the time of Slavery though not a slave herself, as her father had purchased his freedom a few decades prior. Laney attended Atlanta University as part of the first class, graduated and became a teacher. In Georgia, she started the first school in Augusta, Georgia for African Americans. She spent her life advocating for educational rights for African Americans and was the recipient of many accolades, including her induction into the Women of Achievement of Georgia.

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5. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Pioneer of the Women’s Rights Movement 

Elizabeth helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention and assisted in the writing of the Declaration of Sentiments which was known as the “grand movement for attaining the civil, social, political and religious rights of women.”  During the Civil War, she also was a big proponent against slavery. Stanton was the president of the National Woman Suffrage Association for 20 years, which she formed alongside Susan B. Anthony, and later was merged with another group to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

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Paula A. Hill

Paula A. Hill Education Media Content Coordinator | Certified Grades 5-9 Teacher

After spending my first-year teaching in a low-income urban school in Washington, DC, I returned to Florida to finish my Graduate Degree and seek further professional development. It was during my teaching there, that I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by inspiring educators and leaders who motivated, coached, and encouraged my growth and the growth of my students. It was there that I found a deep love for curriculum and curriculum development. I am now back in Washington, DC. where I’ve assumed an out-of-the-classroom role with PBS Learning Media as an Educational Media Content Coordinator. As I continue to learn and grow from others, I look forward to "paying-it forward" by helping my fellow educators and their students achieve success.

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