Celebrating Women’s History Month: Legal History, Research Resources, and Community Events

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Zief Library Assistant Randall Seder takes a look at the social and legal history of the commemorative month, highlights Zief research resources, and presents some Bay-Area events of interest.

Women’s March 2017 - Pennsylvania Ave
Women’s March 2017, Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC. Unsplash.


The legal beginnings of National Women’s History Month have California origins. Efforts to adopt a commemorative month-long observance of women’s history began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California with The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission was established on December 23rd, 1975 (Ordinance No. 1850) with the intended purpose of eliminating discrimination and prejudice on the basis of gender in areas of domestic, economic, and educational influence. In 1978, the Commission on the Status of Women planned and carried out “Women’s History Week.” They chose a week in March that would include International Women’s Day, which is celebrated annually on March 8th and commemorates the 1908 New York City protestors who marched to voice opinions on child labor, sweatshop working conditions, and women’s suffrage.

Suffragette Banner – Votes For Women, 1910-1920. Birmingham Museums Trust. Unsplash.

Word of “Women’s History Week” spread quickly and many surrounding communities planned similar celebrations in the following years. In 1980, the National Women’s History Project, founded that year in Santa Rosa, California, successfully lobbied alongside historians and women’s groups for national recognition.

On February 28th, 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first proclamation recognizing National Women’s Week. In his address, President Carter “urge[d] libraries, schools, and community organizations to focus their observances on the leaders who struggled for equality—Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and Alice Paul.” President Carter continues, “Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people.”

Portrait photographs of the first two women graduates at The University of San Francisco to be awarded an LL.B: Helen I. Byrne and Anne W. Shumway.
The first University of San Francisco women graduates to be awarded an LL.B: Helen I. Byrne and Anne W. Shumway. USF ARCHIVES.

Women’s History Week was legally recognized  in 1981 when Congress passed Public Law 97-28. This law legitimized the week-long commemorative holiday and gave authorization to the president to proclaim its commencement the following year on March 7th, 1982. In turn, President Reagan issued Proclamation 4903, in which he recognized women’s diverse contributions to the United States’ social, political, and economic foundation. President Regan stated, “American women not only worked to secure their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity but also were principal advocates in the abolitionist, temperance, mental health reform, industrial labor and social reform movements, as well as the modern civil rights movement.” This monumental national recognition propelled the women’s justice movement forward.

Over the next five years, Congress continued passing joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week” and encouraging the president to issue a proclamation. In 1987, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to extend the week-long holiday to a month. Congress obliged and Public Law 100-9 was passed. President Reagan then recognized the change on a public and national level through Proclamation 5619. 

Since 1995, presidents have issued annual proclamations recognizing women’s accomplishments throughout the nation’s history, with specific attention paid to their contribution to social reform, the civil rights movements, and political advocacy. In 2022, President Biden proclaimed before the nation: “Women of the labor movement are achieving monumental reforms to help all workers secure the better pay, benefits, and safety they deserve.  LGBTQI+ women and girls are leading the fight for justice, opportunity, and equality — especially for the transgender community.  Women and girls continue to lead groundbreaking civil rights movements for social justice and freedom so that everyone can realize the full promise of America.” 

Photograph of five University of San Francisco Gleeson Librarians and one USF School of Law Librarian.
The Gleeson Librarians, including Law School Librarian Elizabeth Anne Quigley (third from the left). The School of Law occupied the third floor of Gleeson from 1950 until 1962. USF ARCHIVES

President Biden’s proclamation additionally addressed continued systemic barriers and gaps in opportunity. His speech covered topics including: the women’s labor force; wage gaps; gender-based violence; access to health care; and the disproportionate struggle across social, economic, and political platforms for queer and BIPOC communities. 

The theme for Women’s History Month 2023 is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” With this theme in mind, Zief honors the female students, faculty, and staff of the law school community, both past and present, for their contribution to this school’s rich history. We celebrate all those individuals who speak up on personal beliefs surrounding identity and experience, and thank their allies for recognizing the importance of Women’s History Month. 

For a more detailed legal history of women’s history in the United States, explore the National Women’s History Alliance legal timeline, which spans from 1701, when the first gender-integrated jury hears a case in Albany, New York, to 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government cannot discriminate against same-sex marriage to determine federal benefits and protections (United States v. Windsor).


Book covers from the Zief Law Library collection.

To explore materials from the Zief Law Library collection written by women authors and/or discussing women’s experiences regarding the law, please explore the Zief catalog. Relevant topics include: women’s suffrage; reproductive rights; labor laws and the wage gap; representation in political offices; citizenship; family law; and Title IX.


Women In Leadership & Philanthropy Spring 2023 Symposium

Tuesday, March 7th, 2024

  • Global Women’s Rights Forum (GWRF): March 7–9.  The forum aims to recognize women in leadership roles and the work they do to create positive change within their respective fields, whether political, economic, cultural, or ecological. 
  • Reproductive Rights: Perspectives from the Global South: 9:55-11:40am. Remote Panel
  • Transgressing Identity Categories: A Conversation on Social Belonging and Imposterism Roundtable Discussion with Intercultural Centers. 12:00-1:30pm. In-Person, University Center 411/412
  • Feminist Zine Workshop: 12:45–2:30 p.m. and 2:40–4:25 p.m. In-Person, McLaren 250 & 251

Wednesday, March 8th, 2023

  • Feminist Essay Readings: Readings + Q&A. 2:15–3:20 p.m. and 3:30–4:35 p.m. In-Person, McLaren 252

Wednesday, March 9th, 2023

  • Comparing Resistance: Women’s and LGBTQ Mobilization Against Right-Wing Populism: 9:55–11:40 a.m. Remote Panel.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

  • Women in Leadership & Philanthropy Symposium, Discover. Lead. Elevate. On March 23rd, join Women in Leadership & Philanthropy at their ninth-annual Spring Symposium. Come hear from inspirational speakers like Hannah Gordon, Chief Legal & Administrative Officer @49ers as they inspire you to discover your potential, lead with passion, and elevate the next generation. Reserve your spot.

Friday, March 24th, 2023

  • Women of Color Leadership Conference: “The Cultural Centers and the Office of Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI) are excited to present the fourth annual University of San Francisco Women of Color Leadership Conference. Our conference’s purpose is to engage members of the University of San Francisco and the greater San Francisco Bay Area community in centering the experiences of women of color.” For more information on these virtual conference sessions, please click the title. These events will take place online via Zoom between 10:00am-2:30pm.  

Tuesday, March 28th, 2023

  • Gender and Sexuality in Modern Japan: Join Sabine Frühstück, Koichi Takashima Chair in Japanese Cultural Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara for a book talk to discuss, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Japan. Professor Frühstück’s book explores the “ever-changing manifestations of sexes, genders, and sexualities in Japanese society from the 1860s to the present day.” This event will take place from 5:30–6:45 p.m. PDT in McLaren 252 and online via Zoom. Free and open to the public. Registration required.


October 7th, 2022- June 11th, 2023

[Angela Davis]. Poster from the Yanker Poster Collection, [between 1965 and 1980]. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. Unsplash.
  • Angela Davis “Seize The Time” Exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA): “Using the Angela Davis Archive in Oakland as both the heart of the exhibition and a source, visitors are given the opportunity to investigate how we remember, preserve, and activate radical Black history, while also allowing us to re-imagine the construction of the image of Davis as an icon of American Black radical resistance, female empowerment, and a threat to the white patriarchal status quo.”

November 19th-2022-March 12th, 2023

December 17, 2022 – December 3, 2023

  • Lhola Amira: Facing the Future exhibit at the De Young: “Lhola Amira: Facing the Future launches a new program of special exhibitions that will interpret the African art collection as a living and evolving practice through the lens of contemporary art.” 

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023

  • Women’s History Month Documentary Double Feature: Betty: They Say I’m Different (53 minutes, 2017) and bell hooks: Cultural Criticism & Transformation (60 minutes, 1997). 4:00pm – 6:00pm, San Francisco Public Library Richmond Branch, Richmond Meeting Room

Saturday, March 25th, 2023

Thursday, April 20th, 2023

  • Into View: Bernice Bing: The Last Hosian Poets- Genny Lim, Flo Oy Wong, and Nellie Wong — and the Del Sol Quartet will present live poetry and music performance in conjunction with the exhibition, Into View: Bernice Bing, at the Asian Art Museum. 

Ongoing at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA)

  • Remembering Artist Hung Liu: Located in the California Gallery of Art within the museum, OMCA honors the life and legacy of beloved Oakland artist Hung Liu. 


Monday,  March 6th, 2023

  • Black Women Artists & The History of Abstract Art: Part of the Feminist Lecture Programme collection. Join guest lecturer Yvette Miller to discover the untold history of abstract art, a history that involves black women artists. 18:30 – 20:30 GMT.

Wednesday, March 8th, 2023

  • Untold Power: The Fascinating Rise and Complex Legacy of First Lady Edith Wilson: Author and leading historian on woman suffrage, Rebecca Boggs Roberts, discusses her book, Untold Power, which tells the story of Edith Wilson. Online event hosted by the National Archives Museum. 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. EST. Register / View on YouTube. Explore the National Archives March calendar.

Thursday, March 9th, 2023

  • International Women’s Day Women of the Tohono Indian Tribe in Tucson, AZ led the Tucson Women’s March in January 2019.
    International Women’s Day Women of the Tohono Indian Tribe in Tucson, AZ led the Tucson Women’s March in January 2019.

    Virtual Lecture: The Power of Native Women: Join the Putnam History Museum this Women’s History Month is learning about the impact Indigenous women have had throughout history. Sign up here: Virtual Lecture: The Power of Native Women Tickets, 7:00 PM.

  • Mujeres Por La Dignidad: Women’s Revolutionary Law and Indigenous Feminism in Zapatista Communities: “In this lecture, SRJC Anthropology instructor Leticia Contreras will discuss the history of women in the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) and how autonomous organizing among Maya communities led to the creation of Women’s Revolutionary Law. Both the history and philosophy that led to the creation of these laws as well as how women have continued to impact change in Zapatista communities today will be discussed.” 3:00pm-4:30pm, Organized by Santa Rosa Junior College. Zoom Link.

Wednesday, March 29th, 2023

  • The Role of Women In The 1910 Mexican Revolution: “History professor Laura Larqué will lecture on the women’s participation in the Mexican Revolution: from Adelitas and Soldaderas to intellectual contributors to the writing of the 1917 Mexican Constitution.” 12:00pm-2:00pm, Organized by Santa Rosa Junior College. Zoom Link.


  1. Gleeson Digital Library: Women’s Suffrage Collection and informative blog post. 
  2. National Women’s History Museum Online Exhibits: “Civil Rights Movement Timeline,” “Legislating Change,” “Creating a Female Political Culture,” and “Women Run, Women Win: Latinas In Congress.”
  3. Women’s History Month documentaries FREE on Kanopy
  4. Women’s History Month Audiobooks on Hoopla


14-yr. old striker, Fola La Follette, and Rose Livingston. Glass negative from the George Grantham Bain Collection, 1913. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. Photograph shows suffrage and labor activist Flora Dodge “Fola” La Follette (1882-1970), social reformer and missionary Rose Livingston, and a young striker during a garment strike in New York City in 1913. Source: Unsplash.