Women’s History Month
“AMERICAN WOMEN HAVE BUILT FOR THEMSELVES A PROUD RECORD OF ACHIEVEMENT, OF UNSELFISH DEVOTION TO THE PUBLIC WELFARE, OF COURAGEOUS INDUSTRY ADVANCING EVERY GOOD CAUSE.”
As Women’s History Month 2021 draws to a close, we are dedicating our March Digital Digest to Harry Truman and the trailblazers whose leadership, decisions and courage helped advanced women’s rights in post-WWII America.
Enjoy this digital dive into women’s history!
TRUMAN AND THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN’S EQUALITY
President Truman’s support of women’s rights is a lesser-known area of his progressive leadership. He voiced support for the concept of the Equal Rights Amendment. He looked to the day when Americans would elect a woman president. He signed into law the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, enabling women to serve as permanent, regular members of not only the Army but also the Navy, Marine Corps, and the recently formed Air Force. This not only paved the way for thousands of women’s military careers, it guaranteed equal pay – something civilian women are still fighting for.
Between 1945 and 1952, Truman named 18 women to positions requiring Senate confirmation. Of these, nine were jobs women had never held before. By some estimates, Truman installed more than 250 women in high-level positions during his presidency.
So notable was Truman’s commitment to women’s leadership, Adlai Stevenson, the 1952 Democratic nominee for president, promised to follow in Truman’s footsteps in his “growing reliance upon qualified women for high public posts.”
TRUMAN OPENED THE DOOR FOR FIRSTS IN WOMEN’S HISTORY
“A LOT OF JOBS FOR A LOT OF WOMEN”
Oral History Interview with India Edwards
It is nearly impossible to talk about Truman’s historic role in expanding women’s power and influence without talking about India Edwards. As the executive director of the DNC’s Women’s Division from 1948-50, she worked tirelessly for Truman’s 1948 campaign. Following the election, she was asked what she’d like in return. Her answer, recorded in the transcript below, was a game-changer for women everywhere.
PATRICIA ZELMAN: I’m curious, am I correct in classifying you as a feminist? To me you seem like an ideal…
INDIA EDWARDS: I suppose…
ZELMAN: You’re certainly interested in women. How did you get that way?
EDWARDS: Well, I worked on a newspaper from the time I was eighteen.
ZELMAN: In Chicago?
EDWARDS: Yes, first as a reporter, then as society editor, then as women’s editor. And I never really felt that I was discriminated against on the paper….So I was so shocked when I volunteered to work in politics and found out how women were discriminated against in politics, in Government. It really was a revelation to me. I became a fighting militant.
ZELMAN: This would be in the late forties?
EDWARDS: Early forties. I volunteered to work with the Democratic National Committee in 1944.
At the end of the ’48 campaign, the man who had been in charge of the Whistle Stop train came to me and said “President Truman wants to know what you would like. Do you want to be in the Cabinet? What do you want?”
And I said, “I don’t want a thing…But I want a lot of jobs for a lot of women.”
WOMEN’S ARMED SERVICES INTEGRATION ACT
It is interesting that discussions of Truman’s progressive platforms and actions are often focused on issues of desegregation or healthcare reform, especially considering his instrumental role in the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which paved the way for thousands of women’s military careers. He signed the act into law on June 12, 1948, just one month prior to issuing Executive Order 9981, which would end segregation in the U.S. Armed Forces
“BEYOND THE GOWNS”
Discover or revisit our popular lecture series, Beyond the Gowns. The programs – available on our YouTube channel – are as timeless as their subjects.
TWEETING WOMEN’S HISTORY
Throughout the month of March, we have been tweeting and posting women’s history facts and quotes, introducing trailblazers and sharing links to digital resources. Here’s a sampling:
#WomensHistory Quiz: Which mid-century POTUS endorsed the concept of the ERA, looked to the day when a woman held the presidency, appointed women to 18 seats requiring Senate confirmation & guaranteed equal pay for women in the Armed Forces? #ThanksHarry
The WAF (Women in the Air Force) was formed when Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act . Esther Blake was the first woman in the @usairforce. She enlisted the 1st minute of the 1st hour of the 1st day duty was authorized for women in 1948. #WomensHistoryMonth
Happy #InternationalWomensDay. Meet a trailblazer in international affairs, Eugenie Anderson. She made history when President Harry Truman appointed her the first woman ambassador for the United States with a post to Denmark in 1949. Learn more https://bit.ly/3sZQT49
#Trailblazers – In 1949, President Truman appointed Burnita Shelton Matthews to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, making her the 1st woman ever appointed to a federal trial court and only the 2nd woman ever appointed to a US constitutional court.
#BlackHistoryIsWomensHistory – Edith Sampson – a lawyer & judge from Chicago’s South Side – achieved int’l status in 1950 when Truman named her as alternate to the @UN making her the first Black woman to officially represent the U.S. She is pictured here in Vienna, Austria
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