Each year, the National Women’s History Project selects a theme that highlights achievements by distinguished women in specific fields, from medicine and the environment to art and politics.
The 2014 theme, Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment, honors the extraordinary and often unrecognized determination and tenacity of women. Throughout the history of the United States, women have persevered through social, cultural and legal challenges and created lasting legacies of achievements for the following generations to follow and enjoy.
The following highlighted individuals serve as role models, along with countless others, in demonstrating the importance of writing women back into history and looking forward to great things in the future.
Their lives and their work inspire us all, especially girls and women to achieve their full potential, and encourage boys and men to respect the diversity and depth of women’s experiences and accomplishments. Moreover, their heroic efforts have placed today’s young woman in a historically exceptional position, where they are better empowered to influence laws and policies in the future, and further ensure the equal treatment of not only women, but all individuals.
In December of 2013, U.S. Senators confirmed Michelle Howard as the Navy’s number two post, making her the first female four-star admiral in the Navy’s 238-year history. Admiral Howard became the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. Navy and more so, the U.S. military.
This promotion to Vice Chief of Naval Operations will also make her the first African American woman to attain four-star rank in Pentagon history.
Howard knew, at the age of 12, that she wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, even though women couldn’t apply. In 1978, when she entered the Academy, she was one of seven African American women in a class of 1,363.
In 1993, when the Navy changed its policy allowing women to serve on combat vessels, Howard rose through the ranks to become the first female executive officer on an American warship, the USS Tortuga. She was later named commander of the USS Rushmore and became the first female captain and the first Black woman to command a Navy combat vessel.
Less than a week into her new job, Howard learned that the cargo ship Maersk Alabama had been hijacked by Somali pirates. Howard spent two days trying to peacefully end the standoff. Finally, she called in a team of Navy SEALS who shot the pirates and brought Captain Richard Phillips back to safety.
Howard has inspired a younger generation of minority women as well as a nation.
Roxcy Bolton’s involvement in community issues began in the 1950s.
She was so moved by Eleanor Roosevelt's address at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, she felt compelled to take action regarding the disparity between what women were obviously capable of accomplishing and the fact that “all the men were making the decisions.”
Bolton joined the National Organization for Women (NOW) and soon after, championed NOW's message to county commissioners, town councils, and university presidents, arguing the case for equal rights for women, and campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). She personally convinced U.S. Senator Birch Bayh to hold the first hearings on the ERA before Congress in 1970.
Bolton’s extensive efforts included working to end sexist advertising, convincing National Airlines to provide maternity leave to—instead of firing—pregnant flight attendants, and persuading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to name hurricanes after both women and men.
She also initiated the Rehabilitation Program for Young Prostitutes in the Miami-Dade area, offering educational opportunities to incarcerated women, to help keep them off the streets and drug free.
Bolton’s perseverance prompted a Joint Resolution of Congress in 1971 that designated August 26th as Women's Equality Day, and prodded the President to issue an annual proclamation to commemorate that day. Bolton has never wavered in her struggle for equal rights. Her many years of pioneering equal rights activism have earned her numerous awards, including her 1984 induction into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Freedom House founder Jaida Im discovered that modern-day slavery existed in her own backyard. According to the FBI, the United States not only faces an influx of international victims but also has its own homegrown problem of interstate sex trafficking of minors. Human trafficking was not only alive and well, it was rampant in California.
Im was overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and her lack of knowledge about the issue. While questioning the impact one person could make against the second-largest international crime, she was still convinced to act.
Freedom House established The Monarch for women in August 2010 in San Mateo County, the first residential shelter and long-term aftercare program of its kind in Northern California.
Freedom House upholds the core values of love, honesty, compassion, professionalism, and teamwork. The staff works closely with law enforcement and community partners to expose human trafficking, and to provide victims with the care and services they need to rebuild their lives.
In fall 2013, Freedom House opened The Nest to serve girls ages 12-17 that had been rescued from human trafficking. It provides a place where these girls can recapture their interrupted youth in a loving family setting.
“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”
Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan. Malala voiced her passion for education, became a symbol of defiance against Taliban subjugation and almost lost her young life defending her belief.
In September 2008, she gave a speech, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” after the Taliban began attacking girls' schools.
In 2009, Malala began blogging for the BBC about living under the Taliban's efforts to prohibit girls’ education. In order to hide her identity and protect her family, however her true identity was exposed. When she was 14, Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her.
Though Malala was frightened for the safety of her father, also an anti-Taliban activist, she and her family believed that the fundamentalists would not dare harm a child. In October 2012, a Taliban fanatic boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. The shooting left Malala in critical condition; a portion of her skull had to be surgically removed.
She was transferred to England for follow-on medical care. Though she would require multiple surgeries—including repair of a facial nerve to treat paralysis—Malala returned to school in 2013.
Malala continues to speak out about the rights of all women to an education. She remains a staunch advocate for the power of education and was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize in 2011. That same year, she was awarded Pakistan's National Youth Peace Prize.
Last year, the European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
The 2014 Women’s History Month theme Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment, illustrates how the determination and tenacity of a small group of women influenced society during the past few decades.
These women have written profoundly important chapters in contemporary American history.
Moreover, their heroic efforts have placed today’s young woman in a historically exceptional position, where they are better empowered to influence laws and policies, and further ensure the equal treatment of not only women, but all individuals.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Speaker: CAPT Heidi Fleming, XO NAS PAX RIVER
Date/Time: 13 Mar 2014 at 1300
Location: NAS PAX RIVER Building 401
POC: LNC Stacey R. Mincey
Location: Officer's Club
Date/Time: 12 Mar 14 / 1130-1300
Speaker: Joan Wages, President and CEO of the National Women's History Museum
POC/Phone Number: SFC Michael Swinton and SFC Adreine Robinson (202) 703-2964/8729
Location: McGill Training Center Fort Meade
Date/Time: 20 Mar 14 / 1130-1300
Speaker: Christine T. Altendorf, Dir. Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and prevention Office Army G-1
POC/Phone Number: SFC Torey Plamore, (301) 677-6687
Location: Fort Belvoir Community Center
Date/Time: 18 Mar 14 / 1130 - 1300
Speaker: Joan Wages, President and CEO of the National Women's History Museum
POC/Phone Number: SFC Hugo Almaraz and SFC Ebonie Washington, (703) 805-2288