Women's History Month is observed in March to recognize the impact and importance of women in our society. We should all be aware of the importance of women in society, in shaping the country we all live in, and in our history.
Women’s History Month began in 1978 as a weeklong celebration to coincide with International Women’s Day and originated in Santa Rosa, California. The movement was met with wide-spread support and gained nationwide notoriety. The following year, communities throughout the country began adopting the celebration.
Women's organizations and historians successfully lobbied for national recognition in 1980. President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation establishing March 8th as National Women's History Week. Each President after President Carter continued this proclamation until 1987, when Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as "Women’s History Month." Since 1995, each president has issued an annual proclamation designating the month of March as "Women’s History Month."
Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance selects and publishes the yearly theme. This year the theme is "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories." In keeping with this year’s theme for Women’s History Month, I would like to share some of the stories I discovered while researching records at the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds.
Abigail Adams, the United States' second First Lady, was born in Norfolk County. She was born in 1744 in Weymouth. In 1764, she married John Adams. She was President Adam's closest confidant and took an active role in politics and what was taking place in the country. She was an abolitionist who believed in a woman's right to education and the ability to make their own decisions about their lives. John Quincy Adams, Abigail Adams' son, would become the sixth President of the United States. She is buried in Quincy alongside her husband.
Deborah Sampson lived in Sharon, a town in Norfolk County. Born in 1760, she attempted to enlist as a man in the Continental Army. Despite being discovered and sent home, Ms. Sampson later attempted again to enlist, this time succeeding and joining the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. During the American Revolutionary War, she was wounded in battle and received an honorable discharge.
A more modern warrior who I had the pleasure of meeting down at the Falmouth Road Race is American astronaut Sunita Williams. Sunita grew up in Needham and graduated from high school there in 1983. She went on to complete her education at the United States Naval Academy. She has had a long and successful career with NASA and at one point held the record for the most spacewalks of any woman. Ms. Williams also ran the first marathon in space. In 2017, the Needham School Committee voted to name a newly constructed elementary school the Sunita L. Williams Elementary School.
Katharine Lee Bates was born in Falmouth in 1857, but did you know she lived in Wellesley? Ms. Bates was a well-known author who was inspired to write "America the Beautiful" after hiking up Pike's Peak in Colorado. These words were later adapted into a hymn that was chosen as the runner-up for the National Anthem.
Helen Keller was an advocate for the disabled and a suffragette. She contracted an illness at a young age that rendered her blind and deaf. When you think of Helen Keller, you also think of Anne Sullivan, her incredible teacher and champion. Both of these great and strong women lived in Wrentham, Norfolk County. Helen Keller's autobiography, "The Story of My Life," and later the film "The Miracle Worker" provide great insight into these two women's ability to overcome obstacles, their compassion, and the idea that no one should be defined by the expectations of others.
Every day, the women of Norfolk County make our communities a better place to live. Doctor Helen P. Cleary, for example, who joined the United States Marine Corps in 1942 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, was the first woman elected to the Town of Norfolk's Board of Selectmen.
Norfolk County has been home to other inspiring and impactful women. In 1896, Harriet L. Hemenway of Canton co-founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Audie Cornish grew up in Randolph, Massachusetts, and is a journalist and National Public Radio news anchor. Norfolk County can claim entertainers ranging from actress Mindy Kaling, who was born and raised in Wellesley and produced the show "The Office," to noted Broadway and film star Lee Remick, who was born and raised in Quincy. The strength and grace of Needham’s Aly Raisman to be an Olympian Captain and to win numerous Olympic medals is inspirational enough. Yet Ms. Raisman’s bravery and eloquence in speaking out as a survivor to stop sexual abuse, which led her to be a recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, should be a shining example to all of us.
It is great to recognize and be mindful of the women in our society and all that they have accomplished. Let us take a moment to thank all the women who have made a difference in our communities and lives. Our lives, our communities, our county, and our country would not be what they are without all of you.