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Commentary: Women’s impact on history deserves more commemoration now

Mar 25, 2020

Vietnam Veterans Womens Memorial
The Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, DC
is one of the few monuments dedicated to honoring
women's wartime contributions. (Photo by Darcyjeh5)


Statues, monuments and memorials in the United States carry strong, emotional significance and symbolize moments in our history considered positive or negative, depending on who is speaking the loudest at the time.

While these symbols of our collective past can evoke high levels of emotion, they also force dialogue and awareness. This is why it is critical now more than ever that we accelerate the creation of more forms of public commemorations that reflect the strong, diverse roles women have played in our national achievements.

Sounds simple enough, but the mere fact is that in our country there is a clear disparity and significant inequities in how America honors women compared to men. This is something to especially consider since March is Women’s History Month.

There has been some steady movement in this area, but it has been slow. Before women had the right to vote in 1920, many of their contributions were through volunteer organizations and out of sight. In addition to legal roadblocks, such as segregation and military exclusion, barriers such as race and social and economic class dictated appropriate behavior for women, keeping their contributions from the public eye. 

In Washington D.C., where the largest number of monuments in the United States can be found, only 6% are dedicated to women. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to one of the newest additions: Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond. This museum, established in 2000, highlights the unprecedented social changes brought by World War II, including the 6 million women who entered the workforce in factories and shipyards because of the shortage of male workers.

The 1990s saw the completion of four new monuments focusing on women, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Statue in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, New York; the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia; and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

While there are discussions to build more public commemorations of women in various locations throughout the U.S., it’s important to keep the issue at the forefront to ensure we continue moving forward.

Memorials could never represent the vast diversity of women and the magnitude of women’s contributions to our country, but it’s essential in educating and preserving such essential history for generations to come. For if not, the struggles and sacrifices that so many endured for a better future could easily be diminished. 

All communities, no matter the size, must look into their local histories and be vigilant and committed to bringing diversity into our localities with the inclusion of women into their public memorial spaces. These kinds of changes only happen when local residents demand them. Citizens across the country are working to broaden the commemorative landscape, and we can do that here in San Joaquin County, too.

Teresa Bergman, a professor of communication at University of the Pacific, is the author of “Exhibiting Patriotism: Creating and Contesting Interpretations of American Historic Sites” and “Commemoration of Women in the U.S.: Remembering Women in Public Space,” which was published June 1, 2019.

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