Next up – March: Women’s History Month

I’m going to start this month’s blog post on Women’s History by hearkening back to last year’s post: It’s March: Time to Talk Girl Talk. In that post, I gathered some resources we could use to look at history from the perspective of a woman. Using the Circle of Viewpoints, we can encourage unique perspectives in order to make a more complete story. These links are excellent for us to use in a variety of ways, and I spent a little bit of time noodling around looking at video, mostly of the perceptions of women and work. Meander with me a bit to look back at some real-time video from these time periods.

L.P. Hartley is famously quoted as saying “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” When we look back at the way things were, we must take many things into consideration when making conclusions about that time/place, including the culture of the time, the available technology, and the sense of history during the time period. It behooves us, however, to take those look-backs because we tend to forget about certain aspects of the past in favor of those that are most favorable.

Think about the many ways you can use video with students – perhaps in a brown bag lunch series held in the library during Women’s History Month, or by introducing video to your classroom colleagues for use in class during discussions of women in history; or in the unit on the 1950s or in Home Economics, Sociology, or other classes. Try just letting the videos roll on a big screen during lunch or other off-period time. They’re fun, they definitely bring up questions (use the QFT to create discussion points), and they can be used as background for projects such as oral history interviews, video reviews of the past, or preparation for guest speakers.

I think that I like these so much because 1) I am of a certain age and I remember much of what is shown; and mostly because 2) students today think that so many things we take for granted have always been that way – thus: girls playing sports, girls wearing pants to school, women in a wide variety of jobs, and a general sense that equality exists (because, mostly, it seems to be true in our everyday lives). While many young women are awakening to this history through the #MeToo movement, the Women’s Marches, and other venues for discussion and protest, we all can use a discussion on that “foreign country” quality of history.

Show this video for an overview from NPR titled “1950 Housewives: Makers.”

This video introduces us to the ’50’s housewife and includes interviews from a variety of perspectives.When completed, engage in conversation – get them to ask the questions that will be discussed, and if used for class purposes, help them to identify the many possible topics contained within (the women’s movement, kitchen technology, post-war attitudes towards women, careers, Betty Friedan, etc.).

Spend a moment with this video from a radio program called “What Makes You Tick: Attitudes toward Women in the Workplace: 1950s.”  

This one is a particularly interesting look at how psychologists and other “experts” developed conclusions that reinforce their own perceptions. Possibly quite useful for a class in Psychology as well as history!

A longer look (17 minutes) in this video titled “Women in the Workplace in the USA” shares the lives of different working “girls” as a way to show that the modern woman has far more choices in her life than previous generations. Ask students: what does this say about women and work? What positions do all these women (“girls”) hold in their companies? “Live to work… work to live”? How do these working women lives compare to those women who do not work outside the home?

Fast Forward to the 1960s. Here is a video from a student “The 1960’s: the Women’s Movement” that does a nice job of giving an easy-to-understand overview of culture changing events in the 1960s

Bring it up to date (click image).

Here’s a fun way to look into the past using primary sources from the 1930s.


Check out these Marital Surveys devised as a checklist that both men and women could use to “rate” their partner’s suitability as a spouse. Ask students to look at both survey questions–what do these say about the role of both men and women? Do they each ask for similar types of expectations? What do these expectations mean for individuals as they interact with each other?

One way to talk about women in history – especially as we’re talking about Civil Rights, reproductive rights, employment rights, and equality – is to look at the waves of the work accomplished to create equality:

First wave: Late 1800s – 1920s
Aim: the vote
Suffragists and Suffragettes each worked to bring about the right to vote. This was a huge step in bringing women to the table for participation in important issues in the home, the community, state, country and world.

Second wave: 1960s – 1980
Aim: the workplace/sexuality and reproductive rights

Third wave: 1990s – Present
Aim: identity, diversity, re-defining feminism

Some suggest that there is a Fourth Wave from early 2000s to present with the aim being gender equality, gender identity.

Power is not given up by anyone easily. It is always a relentless march to keep the conversation going and actions positive. No matter the issue, being a part of the solution will always create unique perspectives that are necessary for building coalition, consensus, and positive outcomes. It is important that we take moments to look backwards now and then to see not only what life was like “back then,” but to also see just how far we’ve come.

Keep the conversation going! Are there “waves” that identify the movement for equality through the years? What does it mean to be a woman today? Have we answered the questions our mothers and grandmothers and their mothers asked: “can we have it all?”

Waves of Feminism:

Marital Rating Scale:

How to Be a Good Spouse, 1930. Blog post by Liz Colville. Feb. 16, 2011.

Four Waves of Feminism:

Author: Connie Williams

NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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