March was Women’s History Month: Honoring Trailblazers

Tuesday, April 02, 2024 11:19 AM | Jill Tyus-Coates (Administrator)

Submitted on behalf of the DE&I Committee written by Jessica Lizardi, MPA, AFC, Financial Aid Advisor, Oakland Community College

Last month, we recognized Women's History Month, and on behalf of the MSFAA DEI Committee, we reflect on the profound impact of women throughout history, including their pivotal roles in shaping higher education. Established in 1987, Women's History Month has its roots in International Women's Day, which has been celebrated since the early 1900s. Some other notable dates in history include:

  • 1911: International Women’s Day (March 8): The establishment a global celebration of women’s achievements. The United Nations sponsors this day to recognize women’s contributions to peace and progress.
  • 1978: The first celebration of women’s contributions to culture, history, and society took place in Sonoma, California, organized by the school district. This week long event laid the groundwork for Women’s History Month.
  • 1980: President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week.
  • 1987: Congress expanded the celebration to the entire month of March, officially establishing Women’s History Month

Higher education institutions across the country honor the legacy of remarkable women who have shaped the landscape of academia and beyond. During the month of March, they often host events to highlight the achievements of women in academia. Similarly, Women's History Month in Michigan serves as a platform to recognize contemporary leaders, such as Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. Her groundbreaking research exposed the Flint water crisis, demonstrating the pivotal role women continue to play in advancing social justice and public health, alongside many others.

Pioneering Women in Michigan Higher Education and Nationally

  • Helen Walker McAndrew, M.D., was Washtenaw County's first woman physician in 1855 and was the first woman to serve on the University of Michigan's Board of Regents, paved the way for female representation in governance roles.
  • Mary Jane McLeod Bethune became one of the most influential educators, civil and women’s rights leaders and government officials of the twentieth century. In 1904, she founded Bethune-Cookman University, setting educational standards for today’s Black colleges and served as an advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
  • Merze Tate in 1927 was the first Black student to earn a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University, going on to become a scholar, world traveler, journalist, author and advisor to world leaders. In 2021, WMU named one of its academic units after her—one of the few Black women to have an academic college named after her at a predominantly white institution.
  • Dr. Mary Chase Perry Stratton is the Co-founder of Pewabic Pottery and an influential artist and educator in Detroit. She established the first ceramics department at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and in 1947, she received the Charles Fergus Binns Medal, the highest award in the field of American ceramics, shattering gender norms in the early 20th century.
  • Dr. Temple Grandin is a renowned animal scientist, autism self-advocate, and professor at Colorado State University. In 1989 her unique perspective revolutionized livestock handling and she was also the first woman to bring perspective to the gifts that autistic, or “differently wired” minds can bring to the world.

Through commemorating Women's History Month, we reaffirm their dedication to fostering gender equity and empowering future generations of women leaders in higher education and beyond.


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