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Women's History Month

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March is Women’s History Month. Every year March is designated Women’s History Month by Presidential proclamation. The month is set aside to 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.  This year’s annual theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced”

Isabella Bomfree AKA Sojourner Truth
(Circa 1797 - 1883}
Abolitionist and women's rights activist
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!” —Sojourner Truth
Formerly enslaved, Sojourner Truth became an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance, and civil and women’s rights in the nineteenth century. She challenged the notions of racial and gender inferiority through notable speeches and a lecture tour, including “Ain’t I A Woman?” She devoted her life to the abolitionist cause and helped to recruit Black troops for the Union Army. Although Truth began her career as an abolitionist, the reform causes she sponsored were broad and varied, including prison reform, property rights, and universal suffrage.  Her work to help formerly enslaved peoples find jobs and build new lives after the Civil War earned her an invitation to meet President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

On June 1, 1843, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth and devoted her life to Methodism and the abolition of slavery.  In 1844, Truth joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts.  In 1850, Truth spoke at the first National Women's Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. She soon began touring regularly with abolitionist George Thompson, speaking to large crowds on the subjects of slavery and human rights.  In May 1851, Truth delivered an improvised speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron that would come to be known as "Ain't I a Woman?"

Truth put her growing reputation as an abolitionist to work during the Civil War, helping to recruit Black troops for the Union Army. In 1864, Truth was called to Washington, D.C., to contribute to the National Freedman's Relief Association. On at least one occasion, Truth met and spoke with President Abraham Lincoln about her beliefs and her experience.  Until old age intervened, Truth continued to speak passionately on the subjects of women's rights, universal suffrage, and prison reform. She was also an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, testifying before the Michigan state legislature against the practice. She also championed prison reform in Michigan and across the country. Truth is remembered as one of the foremost leaders of the abolition movement and an early advocate of women's rights. Abolition was one of the few causes that Truth was able to see realized in her lifetime. The 19th Amendment, which enabled women to vote, was not ratified until 1920, nearly four decades after Truth's death.

Jovita Idár 
(1885 – 1946)
Mexican-American journalist, activist, and suffragist
“When you educate a woman, you educate a family.” - Jovita Idár

Born in 1885, Idár was a Mexican-American journalist, activist, and suffragist who often faced dangerous situations. She single-handedly protected her newspaper headquarters when the Texas Rangers came to shut it down and crossed the border to serve as a nurse during the Mexican Revolution. Idár bravely fought the injustices in her time.  Jovita Idár was born in 1885 in Laredo, Texas. From an early age, Idár was exposed to journalism and political activism.  She earned a teaching certificate in 1903. Idár immediately began teaching, but soon resigned due to the segregation and poor conditions for Mexican-American students. During this time, the Mexican-American community in Texas also frequently faced violence and lynching. Idár started working for her father’s newspaper La Crónica. The paper was a source of news and activism for Mexican-American rights. She often wrote articles speaking about racism and supporting the revolution in Mexico. In 1911, Idár and her family organized the First Mexican Congress to unify Mexicans across the border to fight injustice. The congress discussed many issues including education and lack of economic resources.

After the Congress, Idár wrote an article for La Crónica supporting women’s suffrage and encouraging women to vote. Idár and her brothers began to advocate for women’s rights and continued to write about women’s suffrage in a positive light. In October of 1911, she founded and became the first president of La Liga Feminil Mexicaista (the League of Mexican Women). This feminist organization started its activism by providing education for Mexican-American students. A few years later, Idár decided to go to Mexico to take care of the injured during the Mexican Revolution. She served as a nurse and eventually joined a group similar to the Red Cross called La Cruz Blanca. Later that year, she returned to Texas and began working at the El Progreso newspaper. While she was there, she wrote an article protesting President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to send Unites States troops to the border. The United States Army and the Texas Rangers did not like that she spoke out, so they went to the offices of El Progreso to shut it down. When the Rangers arrived, Idár stood in front of the door and would not let them in. However, they returned later and forced El Progreso to shut down.

Even though the Rangers shut down El Progreso, Idár continued to write and advocate for the fair treatment of Mexican-Americans. She went back to La Crónica and soon started running the newspaper when her father passed away in 1914. A few years later, Idár married Bartolo Juárez and moved to San Antonio, Texas. She became active in the Democratic Party in Texas and promoted equal rights for women. She also became an editor of a publication for the Methodist Church called El Heraldo Cristiano. Idár remained committed to her community by volunteering in a hospital as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients and started a free kindergarten for children. She was known for saying, Jovita Idár died in San Antonio, Texas in 1946.

(1842 – 1924)
African-American publisher, journalist, civil rights leader, suffragist, and editor of the Woman's Era, the first national newspaper published by and for African-American women.  “We are justified in believing that the success of this movement for equality of the sexes means more progress toward equality of races.”- Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Ruffin was a Massachusetts journalist and noted abolitionist before the Civil War.  She joined the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association in 1875, and affiliated nationally with the American Woman Suffrage Association.  In addition, she was a Black woman’s club leader in that state.  She was the wife of George L. Ruffin, one of the woman suffrage representatives from Boston in the state legislature.  In later years, she stated that she had joined the Massachusetts suffragists because of the warm welcome she was offered by the leaders Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and other suffragists.   In 1895, she convened the first conference of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, probably the first national organization of Black women, in Boston, thereby becoming a leader in the Black woman’s club movement.   Hundreds of Black women answered the call to convene, published in the Woman’s Era. She challenged the opposition to woman suffrage in Boston, writing an editorial in her Black women’s newspaper, the Woman’s Era, co-authored with her daughter, Florida Ridley.  She edited the Woman’s Era, the first newspaper published by and for African American Women.  She sarcastically told her audience that because of the organized opposition of the men toward woman suffrage, “Not for many years has so much enthusiasm and interest been shown” in support of women’s voting rights.  Throughout the 1890s, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin continued to urge white women to join with Black women to further women’s advancement, but her pleas fell largely on deaf ears outside of Massachusetts, and she was personally discriminated against when seeking to represent her club at the 1900 convention of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, leading to the virtual segregation of Black and white women’s clubs.
Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote: 1850-1920; Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indian University Press) 1998 Turning Point Suffragist Memorial

Kamala Devi Harris
(Born 1964)
First female Vice President, highest-ranking female official in U.S. History, first African American and Asian American vice president. “My mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.’” – Kamala Harris

Kamala D. Harris is the Vice President of the United States of America. She was elected Vice President after a lifetime of public service, having been elected District Attorney of San Francisco, California Attorney General, and United States Senator. Vice President Harris was born in Oakland, California to parents who emigrated from India and Jamaica. She graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Vice President Harris and her sister, Maya Harris, were primarily raised and inspired by their mother, Shyamala Gopalan. Gopalan, a breast cancer scientist and pioneer in her own right, received her doctorate the same year Vice President Harris was born. Her parents were activists, instilling Vice President Harris with a strong sense of justice. They brought her to civil rights demonstrations and introduced role models—ranging from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to civil rights leader Constance Baker Motley—whose work motivated her to become a prosecutor. Growing up, Vice President Harris was surrounded by a diverse community and extended family. In 2014, she married Doug Emhoff. They have a large blended family that includes their children, Ella and Cole. Throughout her career, the Vice President has been guided by the words she spoke the first time she stood up in court: Kamala Harris, for the people.

In 1990, Vice President Harris joined the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office where she specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases. She then served as a managing attorney in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and later was chief of the Division on Children and Families for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. She was elected District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003. In that role, Vice President Harris created a ground-breaking program to provide first-time drug offenders with the opportunity to earn a high school degree and find employment. The program was designated as a national model of innovation for law enforcement by the United States Department of Justice.

In 2010, Vice President Harris was elected California’s Attorney General and oversaw the largest state justice department in the United States. She established the state’s first Bureau of Children’s Justice and instituted several first-of-their-kind reforms that ensured greater transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system. As Attorney General, Vice President Harris won a $20 billion settlement for Californians whose homes had been foreclosed on, as well as a $1.1 billion settlement for students and veterans who were taken advantage of by a for-profit education company. She defended the Affordable Care Act in court, enforced environmental law, and was a national leader in the movement for marriage equality.

In 2017, Vice President Harris was sworn into the United States Senate. In her first speech, she spoke out on behalf of immigrants and refugees who were then under attack. As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, she fought for better protections for DREAMers and called for better oversight of substandard conditions at immigrant detention facilities. On the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, she worked with members of both parties to keep the American people safe from foreign threats and crafted bipartisan legislation to assist in securing American elections. She visited Iraq, Jordan, and Afghanistan to meet with servicemembers and assess the situation on the ground. She also served on the Senate Judiciary Committee. During her tenure on the committee, she participated in hearings for two Supreme Court nominees.

As Senator, Vice President Harris championed legislation to reform cash bail, combat hunger, provide rent relief, improve maternal health care, and address the climate crisis as a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Her bipartisan anti-lynching bill passed the Senate in 2018. Her legislation to preserve Historically Black Colleges and Universities was signed into law, as was her effort to infuse much-needed capital into low-income communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On August 11, 2020, Vice President Harris accepted President Joe Biden’s invitation to become his running mate and help unite the nation. She is the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected Vice President, as was the case with other offices she has held. She is, however, determined not to be the last. Photo courtesy of: