March is the month to honor Alabama’s great women

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 14, 2006

From the classroom to the boardroom and from the athletic field to the battlefield, women are excelling as leaders in all walks in life. Women play an important role in bettering our society, and chances are a woman influenced your life in a major way.

We cannot fully appreciate the impact women have on our world today without recognizing the accomplishments of the past. Whether it is fighting for racial and social equality or bringing communities together in the face of impossible odds, women have helped shape the face of our state and nation.

In 1980, The National Women’s History Project started the campaign for a month to recognize the importance of women on our nation. The goal of the effort was to ensure that information about the countless ways women have changed America would be part of our children’s education.

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Seven years later, Congress and the President followed by declaring March as National Women’s History Month. The reasoning was simple. How are our children –girls and boys alike –going to understand the importance of women to American culture and history if their education includes little or nothing about the significance of women’s contributions? In the almost 20 years since then, the month-long celebration has grown substantially.

The theme of this year is “Women: Builders of Communities and Dreams.” The theme honors the many generations of women who, in their creation of communities and encouragement of dreams, help foster the spirit of promise, possibility, and purpose in everyone.

It is important to understand and appreciate the significance of women, and Alabama is home to some of the most influential women in history.

Helen Keller, born in Tuscumbia, is known and loved for the courage she demonstrated to overcome many obstacles during her lifetime. She became the first deaf and blind person to enroll at an institution of higher learning. After graduating, Keller spent many years giving lecture tours and speaking of her experiences and beliefs to enthralled crowds in addition to advocating equal treatment of deaf-blind people.

In 1964, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, by President Lyndon Johnson. A year later she was elected to the Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair.

Several pioneers who challenged segregation laws and fought the injustice of unequal rights are women from Alabama. Rosa Parks, whose simple dignity and strength of purpose was the spark that ignited the civil rights movement, and Coretta Scott King, who worked tirelessly for equal justice, both hailed from our great state.

Julia Tutwiler’s fame came from her devotion and work in education and prison reform. As president of Livingston State Normal School, she gained the title of “Mother of Co-Education in Alabama” because she forced the entry of ten girls to the University of Alabama. She was also instrumental in establishing what is today the University of Montevallo.

Tutwiler also became known as “Angel of the Prisons.” Instrumental in bringing about the separation of hardened criminals from small offenders, Julia Tutwiler Woman’s Prison is now named after her. Tutwiler’s poem “Little, little, can I give thee” eventually became part of the Alabama state song.

Several other Alabama women have impacted our nation and state as well. Women such as Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American women to go into space, Hattie Hooker who fought relentlessly for women’s suffrage, and Vonetta Flowers, the first African-American to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics, show that women from Alabama have excelled in all walks of life.

This month, I encourage everyone to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of women who have help build our communities and dreams throughout the past and those who continue to do so everyday. In doing so, we can take pride in their accomplishments not only during women’s history month, but also throughout the year.