Women’s achievements embody the very essence of what American history is all about - the breaking of barriers, the overcoming of challenges, and the beating of incredible odds.
Every March, Women’s History Month celebrates these contributions, so vital to the building of our nation. Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance assigns a theme to Women’s History Month. This year, the theme is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” This theme is "both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history."1 Just as one example of that hope, during World War II women rose to the challenge of promoting the war effort on the home front.
Image courtesy of the Rosie the Riveter Museum
Rosie the Riveter
Most of us are familiar with Rosie the Riveter, the iconic image on J. Howard Miller’s poster, and the accompanying slogan “We Can Do It”. Rosie, who has become a symbol for women’s independence, was featured in order to recruit female workers to the defense industry in America. With massive gaps due to the enlistment of male soldiers, women entered the workforce in droves.
The aviation industry, Rosie’s job site, experienced the largest increase of female workers. These workers were a key element of the American war effort, and they also changed women’s roles in the workplace forever. Go, Rosie!
Of course, women have changed history in a variety of industries. Did you know that women had a hand in designing the first space suit? Those attempting to develop the technology struggled with the issue of pressure in high altitudes. Where did they turn? Women’s fashion, naturally. They found that women’s “foundation” garments seemed to have solved the problem already. “Although women were never considered to be astronauts during the Apollo missions, the designs of the spacesuits were conceived and made by teams of women on the workshop floor. ‘That spacesuits borrowed materials and design from women’s fashion is one of the ironies of Cold War technology,’ writes Matthew H. Hersch in Winterthur Portfolio. Women were an integral part of developing the modern spacesuit.”2
Women Sending Astronauts to Space
These weren’t the only women helping astronauts reach for the stars. Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked for NASA in the 1950s and 60s, sent men to the moon and brought them safely home. Katherine, with her other Black female colleagues, used their incredible computational skills to figure out calculations required for spaceflight. Katherine herself calculated the path of America’s first human spaceflight in 1961. She also calculated John Glenn’s orbit of the earth and Neil Armstrong’s flight in 1969. What a resume! While she was at it, she broke gender and racial barriers, refusing to eat lunch or use facilities in segregated areas. She is an American hero in so many ways. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2015, and NASA named a research facility after this American hero.
Photo: Coco Chanel, Getty Images.
Of course, we can’t forget women who have blazed a trail in the fashion industry, creating clothing for women that liberated them in so many ways. Take Coco Chanel for instance, one of the most influential designers of all time. She began her career post WWI, creating simple, classic looks that freed women from the restrictive corsetry of the time. “Coco Chanel was a champion for women from the very beginning. In her early 20’s, she began making clothes for herself as a response to the lack of simple and classic styles available for women and through the enduring power of word-of-mouth, a small empire was born.”3
Since those challenging, ground-breaking days, women have been forging their own paths and changing society from the ground up. Even today women continue to challenge the status quo, breaking barriers and creating new opportunities.
Our founder, Jenny Fong, continues to be inspired by her predecessors across all industries. Lucky for us, Modern Shibori’s studios happen to be just down the road from the National Historic Park’s Rosie the Riveter/WWII Homefront Museum. We look forward to celebrating Women’s History Month with you.
Is there a woman in your life who astonishes you with their accomplishments? Let us know in the comments below!
Find out more about Women’s History Month:
Find out more about Katherine Johnson: