Introduction to award presentation
by David Sadker
My education career began as a social studies teacher in Massachusetts.
Like so many teachers, I put in long hours writing lesson plans,
working hard to invent motivational and exciting activities, and
generally trying to figure out how to make history stimulating to
my students. I thought that I was doing a pretty good job of teaching
3000 miles away in California, another social studies teacher shared
similar enthusiasm for her teaching job. At one Department meeting
she volunteered that she would like to teach women's history for
a week. One of her colleagues chided, "Where are you going
to get a week's worth of women's history?"
What that colleague did not know was that she was talking to Molly
Murphy MacGregor. Not only did Molly find a week's worth of women's
history, she founded the National Women's History Project - the
group we honor today with the 2001 Myra Sadker Equity Award. Molly
gave her students more than a week's worth of women's history: she
gave the nation a new way to look at our past. Thanks to Molly and
her project, all of us now have March as National Women's History
After meeting Molly, I understood that I had been a social studies
teacher teaching a half-a-history course. It was a "DWM"
- a "dead white male" curriculum. Studies revealed that
high school history textbooks were over 95% male. An Eleanor Roosevelt
here, a Susan B. Anthony there, a Harriet Tubman thrown in for good
measure, and of course Carrie Nation wielding an ax, chopping up
bars in the name of temperance, and that was pretty much the scene
for the treatment of women in history textbooks. America's females
(and males) lacked women as historical role models. And the absence
In Failing at Fairness, Myra and I wrote about a little
experiment that we conducted. We gave students five minutes to write
down the names of ten famous men in American history. It turned
out to be an easy task. Few students needed even a minute to do
it. Then - you guessed it - we asked them to write down ten famous
women in American history. The rule we created was that they could
not name contemporary female celebrities or sports figures, they
had to name famous women from history. Few could name even five.
Although it wasn't for lack of trying.
One student looked stunned at the task, and was amazed to see his
friend writing furiously.
"How do you know so many famous women?" he asked.
"Easy" his friend replied. "Just think of the Presidents."
"Presidents? There were no women Presidents."
"I know", he said, "there's a law against that.
But just write down the Presidents, and then put a 'Mrs.' in front
of the name. Mrs. George Washington, Mrs. Thomas Jefferson, Mrs.
Kennedy. It's easy."
Another student managed to identify two women, Mrs. Fields and
Frances Scott Key.
In 1980, the National Women's History Project (NWHP) was established
in Santa Rosa, California. The NWHP led the coalition that successfully
lobbied Congress to designate March as National Women's History
Month. The Project became a clearinghouse, providing information
and training in multicultural women's history for educators, community
organizations, and parents - for anyone wanting to expand their
understanding of women's contributions to U.S. history.
The enduring goal of the NWHP is to "make history" accurate
by continuing to recognize and celebrate women's authentic contributions
through its current and future projects.
- distributes 330,000 Women's History Catalogs annually, providing
educational material, including books, videos, posters, and CD-ROMs.
- maintains an award-winning website (www.nwhp.org)
that had over half a million visitors last year.
- provides resources and materials not only to schools but also
to the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institutions, PBS
and the media.
- produces 175,000 news gazettes for special campaigns to teachers,
students, and the public.
- organizes educational conferences and workshops for tens of
thousands of educators
- and consults on curriculum in more than 100 school districts
in 37 states.
Today, Mother Nature seems to be one of very few forces that can't
be planned and organized by the NWHP! Just last week, you might
have noticed that The Washington Post cited the Project as
the key resource on Women's History -- and for those of you interested
in learning more, there is an ample supply of catalogues filled
with books, posters, and teaching ideas that breathe life into our
classrooms, and put women back into our nation's history.
In no small part due to the efforts of the NWHP, millions of Americans
now enjoy a better understanding of the importance of women's history.
For girls, women's history brings full citizenship. It means that
women in the past have not just "married" into their citizenship,
but that they have earned it! Girls of all races and ethnicities
finally have important role models to read about in their textbooks.
Today's girls are more likely to understand their nation's past,
and can be more confident about their own futures.
While textbooks have improved in response to the women's movement,
the problem persists. Elementary, secondary and even college texts
continue to portray a world of male accomplishment, and female invisibility.
Karen Zittleman, a doctoral student in the school of education,
and I have just completed an analysis of the leading teacher education
textbooks. All the texts we reviewed were published in the last
three years. We found that women are often missing, and when present,
are sometimes stereotyped. In some cases, political writings of
the far right are cited in these texts in an effort to deny or belittle
the idea that any gender bias exists in schools. Three decades since
the passage of Title IX, two decades since the creation of The National
Women's History Project, the need to research and write women into
the nation's textbooks continues.
While much has been written of just how girls have gained, I believe
that too little has been directed at how much boys gain from the
NWHP. The NWHP teaches boys to appreciate their sisters' historical
role, and to see girls and women as equal partners in the democracy.
Boys can now learn that history is more than war and politics. American
history also includes women's labor, unpaid and unrecognized --
labor that kept families intact, farms operating, commercial ventures
profitable, and the nation moving forward. The NHWP has taught us
how women have improved the quality of life for all Americans, from
safer working conditions to consumer protection, from the abolition
of slavery to the right to decent health care. Women's history teaches
us that courage is not limited to battlefields.
Both boys and girls owe a great deal to the NWHP, and Myra Sadker
Advocates is proud to recognize Molly MacGregor and the NWHP for
two decades of putting the missing chapters back in the America's