By Susan Rittereiser
March 31st marks the close of National Women’s History Month, which was declared in perpetuity by presidential proclamation in 1987. The first steps towards officially recognizing the contributions of women to the story of America was initially set in motion by the Carter Administration back in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8th as National Women’s History Week. The Austin History Center has a wealth of archival information documenting the numerous lives and tireless activities of a diverse array of local women who not only helped shape the story of Austin/Travis County but, in some instances, the story of Texas as well as this nation. A great starting point for locating these contributions may be found in the AHC Women’s Resource Guide, available in print in the Reading Room as well as online.
Examples from the AHC’s vast holdings include the Jane McCallum Collection (AR.E.004). McCallum was an Austin suffragist whose tireless efforts throughout Texas helped American women achieve the right to vote through passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. She went on to become the first Texas female Secretary of State, first under Dan Moody in 1927 and then, again, under Ross Sterling in 1931. She also participated in numerous local and national organizations including the League of Women Voters, the Women’s Committee for Economic Policy in Texas, the Austin Planning Commission and the Texas Fine Arts Association. Photo: PICB 13189
Other highlights from the AHC’s vast holdings include;
- The Brenda Malik Video Collection 1979-2003 (AR.2008.012)—Malik was a noted journalist and activist in the African American Community; material related to R.C.
- (Rose Chin) Wong, accomplished artist, investor and member of one of the first Chinese American families to settle in Austin (Wong Family Papers – AR.2008.005)
- The YWCA Records of Austin, 1907-1998 (AR.2003.014). This collection documents local activities of this national women’s organization including counseling services, anti-racism projects and gay-community group activities, among others.
March is also recognized now as National Women Veterans Month. Pictured above is a photograph (A 1200 (13) - AF-Aeronautics-University Aerial Company) from May 27, 1940 of Mary Aletha Miller, graduate of the first Non-College Pilots Training School at the Browning School, University Airport. On December 15, 1942, the Browning CPTP (Civilian Pilots Training Program) became the War Training Service, which trained pilots for the U. S. Army Air Corps. During WW II (1939-1945), female pilots played a highly significant role in the military for the first time in U.S. history. They flew military aircraft such as B-26 and B-29 bombers, transported planes to bases, participated in target simulations, and transported cargo and ammunition to troops all over the world. The contributions of female service members, known as WASPS Women Airforce Service Pilots, went unrecognized until 1977 when they were granted military status by the US governmnet. In 2009, President Barak Obama signed a bill granting these women the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. Photo: PICA 19601b