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National Women's History

Boswell Briefing

March 5, 2009
Leonard Boswell

This March marks the 23rd celebration of National Women's History Month. Schools, workplaces, and communities across the country will honor women of every race, class, and ethnic background who have made historic contributions to the growth of our nation. This year's theme, Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet, highlights women whose lives show exceptional dedication to environmental conservation.

By recognizing the extraordinary achievements of women, the National Women's History Project (NWHP) seeks to develop self-esteem in girls and convince them that any goal is achievable. In 1987, the group successfully lobbied Congress to designate March as Women's History Month. Today, the NWHP provides information and training in multicultural women's history for educators, community organizations, parents and anyone else who wants to broaden their knowledge.

It's safe to say Iowa's history would be very different were it not for the many enterprising women who helped shape it. Ola Babcock Miller, to take one example, is known today as "The Mother of the Iowa Highway Patrol." In 1932, she was elected as Iowa's first female secretary of state, and went on a crusade to improve safety and reduce deaths on the state's roads. The women of Iowa have also shaped the history of our nation as a whole. Carrie Chapman Catt, who grew up in Charles City, Iowa, led the campaign to win voting rights for women. In 1920, she founded the League of Women Voters upon ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

NWHP's web site,, includes a list of 2009 Honorees: scientists, engineers, business leaders, writers, filmmakers, conservationists, teachers, and community organizers, all of whom made it their mission to explore and defend our natural environment. From Rachel Carson, the founder of the modern environmental movement; to Jane Goodall, the famous primate scientist; to Ohio educator and naturalist Mary Hultman; to Georgia recycling artist Rose Marie Williams McGuire all of these women have, in large and small ways, made an indelible impact on our nation's environmental consciousness.

The women's rights movement has made great progress in recent decades, but the struggle is clearly not over. A federal law, the Equal Pay Act (EPA), requires employers to pay male and female employees equally for doing the same work. Though it was passed in 1963, implementation of the law has been far from perfect. According to the National Organization for Women, women in full-time, year-round jobs are paid on average only 77% of what men are paid. For women of color, the gap is considerably wider. This inequity has persisted despite the passage of the EPA more than 40 years ago, as well as numerous other laws prohibiting discrimination.

Last month, my colleagues and I in the 111th Congress passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which restores a basic protection against pay discrimination by rectifying the May 2007 Ledbetter v. Goodyear Supreme Court decision that made it difficult for workers to pursue pay discrimination claims. In another positive step, Congress passed the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2009, which amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of wage discrimination. As women continue to advance toward equality in the workplace and beyond, I hope these two laws bring them closer to that goal.

I encourage the citizens of Iowa's Third District to celebrate National Women's History Month. There are plenty of ways to take part. Ask your local schools what they are doing to commemorate the month. Maybe students could write an essay or draw a picture about this year's theme. You might plan a reception or luncheon to honor the women who enrich your hometown. You could ask that your place of worship recognize women's contributions to your spiritual community. Or you can simply spend a few minutes learning about a pioneering woman, whose accomplishments may inspire you.



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