Women’s History Month

Women ordnance workers (“WOWs”) during World War II

Since 1987, March has been nationally recognized as Women’s History Month–a month set aside to celebrate the achievements of women and the singular role they have played in the American story. The theme for this year is “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment,” which draws attention to the importance of education in securing equal opportunities for women, and recognizes the many pioneers who have fought against the outdated ideas that “[women] were incapable of intellectual development equal to men, or that they would be harmed by striving for it.” (National Women’s History Project)

Women’s suffrage postcard, ca. 1915

The history of Ohio is full of remarkable women who have made incredible contributions in all sorts of fields, from education to literature, politics to women’s rights. Many of these names we know, like Annie Oakley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Toni Morrison and Gloria Steinem. But some of the women who helped shape the world we live in are names we might not find in a social studies textbook. Ohio Memory does an amazing job of providing resources about these figures, both the famous and the lesser-known. You can find collections related to the National Association of Colored Women, women and the military, women in politics, suffrage, and much more!

We’d like to use this post to highlight some of the many amazing Ohio women whom you might not know by name, but who played pivotal roles in the state’s history. Here are just a few:

  • Ouida Okey (1893-1974) was one of only 200 women to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War I
  • Betsy Mix Cowles (1810-1876) was active in the education, abolition and women’s rights movements in Ohio
  • Emma R. Gatewood (1887-1973) was the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (at age 67!)
  • Ellen Walker Craig (1907-2000) was the first African American woman in the country to be elected mayor
Ellen Walker Craig, Mayor of Urbancrest, Ohio, in 1975

In addition to these important figures, Ohio is also home to the first coeducational college in the United States–Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. The college formally admitted women to its degree program beginning in 1837, although they had been permitted to enroll in college preparatory coursework from the institution’s founding in 1833. Three women– Mary Caroline Rudd, Mary Hosford, and Elizabeth Prall–were the first in the country to receive a bachelor of arts degree (then called an A.B., from the LatinArtium Baccalaureus) when they graduated in 1841. Antioch College in Yellow Springs, another Ohio school, followed in Oberlin’s progressive footsteps by allowing women upon its founding in 1853.

Ursuline Academy, in Cleveland, further contributed to educational opportunities for women when it was chartered as the first all-female institution for higher learning in Ohio in 1871. Although the school now enrolls men and women, it was unique early on for offering coursework comparable to that offered at traditional men’s colleges and universities.

We invite you to take a look at women on Ohio Memory for yourself! To learn more about Women’s History Month, you can visit the National Women’s History Project, explore WomensHistoryMonth.gov, or read President Obama’s 2012 proclamation from earlier this month.

Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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