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Dive into women’s history with these 5 free online resources


March is here, and so is Women’s History Month in the United States. That means it’s time to put on your thinking caps and dive into the deeply rich history of women, both past and present.

The origins of Women’s History Month stretch back to 1978(Opens in a new tab) when the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women organized a “Women’s History Week”(Opens in a new tab) in March. After an association of women’s groups and historians, led by the National Women’s History Alliance (then the National Women’s History Project), successfully lobbied for national recognition in 1980(Opens in a new tab), the week of March 8th became National Women’s History Week. And in 1987, Congress passed a law declaring March Women’s History Month.

For too long, women’s stories and contributions have been left out of our national narrative, said Jennifer Herrera, vice president of external affairs at the National Women’s History Museum.

“History is only as complete as the stories we teach, share, and learn. Women’s history is exciting and inspiring and empowering, and by including women’s voices and women’s stories, we’re telling a more inclusive, representative, and accurate history,” she said.

With all that in mind, Mashable reached out to various organizations — including the National Women’s History Museum, the National Women’s History Alliance, the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Smithsonian Institute’s Women’s History Initiative — to curate a list of engaging resources that elevate the largely untold stories of underrepresented women. We included digital media that feature a wide range of women from varying cultures, sexualities, classes, and fields.

Check out the below free online selections and add to your knowledge of how women have shaped the world.

Feeling as if Washington D.C.’s museums ignored(Opens in a new tab) women’s history, Karen Staser founded the National Women’s History Museum in 1996. As an entirely online museum, it’s well poised to boost your knowledge about women who contributed to history from afar.

In the museum’s Biographies(Opens in a new tab) section, for example, you can learn about both historical and contemporary women who broke barriers, including poet Maya Angelou(Opens in a new tab), Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg(Opens in a new tab), the first Native American United States poet laureate Joy Harjo(Opens in a new tab), and filmmaker Ava DuVernay(Opens in a new tab).

Its collection of online exhibits(Opens in a new tab) explore themes within women’s history. It also profiles some of the women included within its biographies, but includes more visual elements like photos and drawings. You can learn the names and stories of women who were an integral part of NASA(Opens in a new tab), sympathize with the struggles Latina and Hispanic suffragists endured(Opens in a new tab), or delve into the fascinating life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman(Opens in a new tab). And that’s only a taste of what’s available.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the museum hosted the [email protected] series, which offered virtual education, author talks, panel discussions, and more, all about trailblazing women throughout history. You can still view recordings from past events on the [email protected] webpage(Opens in a new tab).

You can revisit the museum’s 2022 Women’s History Month Resource Toolkit(Opens in a new tab), which is intended for everyone “from individuals, educators, and students, to small nonprofits and large businesses,” the organization explains. The toolkit includes links to daily activities, online learning resources, both in-person and virtual events for the entire month of March, and even a Women’s History version of the game Solitaire(Opens in a new tab), created by the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The museum is launching its first physical exhibit, “We Who Believe In Freedom: Black Feminist DC”(Opens in a new tab), in 2023, hosted at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.(Opens in a new tab)

The National Women’s History Alliance pointed Mashable toward 26 animated documentary shorts, known collectively as UNLADYLIKE2020. Narrated by The Good Wife actress Julianna Margulies and Lorraine Toussaint from Orange is the New Black, each features a pivotal woman in history and engages readers with its brilliant art, upbeat music, expert interviews, and vivid details.

Learn about Louise Arner Boyd(Opens in a new tab), the first woman to lead scientific expeditions in the Arctic. Or listen to gender nonconforming Gladys Bentley(Opens in a new tab), who sang the blues and played the piano during the Harlem Renaissance. Or cheer on Gertrude Ederle(Opens in a new tab) as you watch her become the first woman to swim the English Channel. She inspired more than 60,000 women in the U.S. to earn Red Cross swimming certificates in the 1920s, a time when many Americans had never swum before.

Documentary filmmaker Charlotte Mangin created the series because she wanted to share the stories of trailblazing but relatively unknown women, in time for the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020. She told Mashable that through the series, she hoped to highlight women who were often the first in their fields, particularly those of color who faced additional hurdles due to racism and sexism.

Mangin and her team assembled a board of 13 academic advisers to ensure historical accuracy and cultural sensitivity, and to help select the 26 women featured in the shorts.

UNLADYLIKE2020 also offers a free history curriculum and lesson plans based on the 26 women profiled. This content is appropriate for students in grades 6-12. You can access it on the PBS website(Opens in a new tab). In addition, all videos and learning resources have Spanish subtitles(Opens in a new tab) available for viewers. For Spanish versions of the documentary videos, visit the American Masters PBS YouTube channel(Opens in a new tab), the PBS LearningMedia site(Opens in a new tab), or the PBS Documentaries channel on Amazon Prime(Opens in a new tab). Find accompanying learning resources in Spanish under “Support Materials for Use with Students” on the PBS LearningMedia page for each video.

The Center for Women’s History at the New-York Historical Society explores the lives of a wide range of notable women in American history from different cultures, sexualities, classes, and races.

You can access a guide to the organization’s archives online, which allows visitors to search for women’s history topics by eras in American history(Opens in a new tab), or by theme(Opens in a new tab), such as arts and literature, education and teaching, and even the social lives of women throughout history.

Its blog(Opens in a new tab) discusses a number of fascinating questions and topics, like if Wonder Woman was actually a feminist icon(Opens in a new tab), the history of the woman who pushed for a better medical mask and whose designs inspired the N95 mask(Opens in a new tab), and Black women’s integral roles in celebrating Juneteenth(Opens in a new tab).

The Center also offers a library(Opens in a new tab) of short animated videos that touch on “inspiring women’s stories and key themes.” For example, learn about Thomas(ine) Hall(Opens in a new tab), a gender nonconforming person living in colonial Virginia, or Lorenda Holmes(Opens in a new tab), a spy in New York who sabotaged American war efforts during the American Revolution.

In addition, the center hosts its own free digital curriculum site called Women & the American Story(Opens in a new tab), designed for all ages. The site shares a wide scope of women’s history beginning with the era of colonization(Opens in a new tab). The history lessons cover a lot of information, but all of it focuses on the role of women and women’s narratives frequently left out of history courses. Lessons like these are great for educators, as well as parents, but are beneficial for just about anyone curious about women’s roles in American history.

The National Women’s Hall of Fame, an organization dedicated to “celebrating the achievements of distinguished American women,” features a wide range of icons, many of whom bucked societal gender norms to become the first woman, or one of the first, in their fields. You can read about each of these women on the National Women’s Hall of Fame website(Opens in a new tab).

Inducted women come from fields as diverse as science, government, the arts, business, athletics, education, and philanthropy. For example, read about Gwendolyn Brooks(Opens in a new tab), a celebrated poet from Chicago’s South Side, Marjory Stoneman Douglas(Opens in a new tab), a journalist and author who fought to establish the Florida Everglades as a national park, or Althea Gibson(Opens in a new tab), the first Black tennis player to win the All-England Championships at Wimbledon(Opens in a new tab). You can also watch past induction ceremonies(Opens in a new tab).

The National Women’s Hall of Fame has also recorded the oral histories(Opens in a new tab) of some living inductees. Listen to former first lady Rosalynn Carter(Opens in a new tab) discuss her upbringing, give advice to young children about how to reach their dreams, and encourage them to do whatever they can to help others. Or hear from Ruth Johnson Colvin(Opens in a new tab), the 106-year-old founder of the Literacy Volunteers of America, now known as ProLiteracy Worldwide(Opens in a new tab).

Part of the greater network of Smithsonian museums and resources, the Smithsonian Institute’s Women’s History Initiative was tasked with “researching, disseminating, and amplifying the histories of American women(Opens in a new tab)” after Congress enacted legislation to create a Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum(Opens in a new tab) in December 2020.

As part of this mission, the general public was given access to the initiative’s work. Its website has a wide array of educational resources, such as a deep archive of stories and digitized versions of items in its physical collection, including objects that tell the stories of American women through the years — like a handmade quilt made by artist Viola Canady(Opens in a new tab), a pin belonging to astronaut Sally Ride(Opens in a new tab), and numerous restored photographs(Opens in a new tab). You can explore the archive by various themes, like Activism(Opens in a new tab), Entertainment(Opens in a new tab), and Public Service(Opens in a new tab). Each theme is accompanied by related collection items, a conversation kit for educators, educational videos, and even music playlists.You can view digitized photos of all of the objects along with their stories(Opens in a new tab)

The Smithsonian Institute hosts weekly virtual events(Opens in a new tab) honoring the achievements of women and girls, as well, including workshops (like its HERstory Zine Workshop(Opens in a new tab)), virtual roundtables (like the ongoing series diving into the portrayal of Indigenous women onscreen(Opens in a new tab)), and youth-oriented offerings (like its Youth In Action: Digital Futures for Women series(Opens in a new tab)).

All of these resources will likely expand the women that come to mind when you think about historical milestones and, perhaps, inspire the women and girls in your life to realize greatness has no limits.

UPDATE: Mar. 3, 2023, 12:48 p.m. EST This story was updated with additional information for Women’s History Month 2023.

UPDATE: Mar. 11, 2022, 2:15 p.m. EST This story was originally published in 2021, and was updated with new resources and information in 2022. Additional reporting by Chase DiBenedetto.


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