March 31, 2023

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 National Women’s History Alliance chooses the month’s theme each year, and 2022’s focus is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” According to the organization’s website, the choice of theme is “a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.”

The origins of Women’s History Month stretch back to 1978 when the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women organized a “Women’s History Week” 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, 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, says 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 says.

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’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 women’s history, Karen Staser founded the National Women’s History Museum in 1996. As an entirely online museum (though, it’s working to open a physical location in D.C. in 2022), it’s well poised to boost your knowledge about women who contributed to history from afar.

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

Its collection of online exhibits 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, sympathize with the struggles Latina and Hispanic suffragists endured, or delve into the fascinating life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. 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.

For 2022, the museum wants visitors to download and use its Women’s History Month Toolkit, 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, created by the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

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, the first woman to lead scientific expeditions in the Arctic. Or listen to gender non-conforming Gladys Bentley, who sang the blues and played the piano during the Harlem Renaissance. Or cheer on Gertrude Ederle 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 most 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 hopes 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 advisors to ensure historical accuracy, cultural sensitivity, and 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 here. In addition, all videos and learning resources have Spanish subtitles available for viewers. For Spanish versions of the documentary videos, visit the American masters PBS Youtube channel, the PBS LearningMedia site, or the PBS Documentaries channel on Amazon Prime. 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, or by theme, such as arts and literature, education and teaching, and even the social lives of women throughout history.

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

The Center also offers a library of short animated videos that touch on “inspiring women’s stories and key themes.” For example, learn about Thomas(ine) Hall, an intersex person living in colonial Virginia, or Lorenda Holmes, 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, designed for all ages. The site shares a wide scope of women’s history beginning with the era of colonization, and it’s set to launch its newest unit, The Information Age (1974-2018), sometime this year. 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 here.

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

The National Women’s Hall of Fame has also recorded the oral histories of some living inductees. Listen to former first lady Rosalynn Carter 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 astronomer Judith Pipher talk about how she got interested in the field as a child, despite failing her first astronomy test in school.

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” after Congress enacted legislation to create a Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum in Dec. 2020.

As part of this mission, the general public was given access to the initiative’s work. It’s website has a wide array of educational resources, including 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 Canadya pin belonging to astronaut Sally Ride, and numerous restored photographs. You can explore the archive by various themes, like Activism, Entertainment, and Community. 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 here

The Smithsonian Institute hosts weekly virtual events honoring the achievements of women and girls, as well, including children’s read-alongs and book talks with authors highlighting the stories of women history-makers, like Constance Baker Motley  — the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge. For virtual children’s programming, sign up for the “Her Story: How Women and Girls Transformed the World!” series, which offers three 30-minute programs about women’s art, history, and identity. The month’s events end with a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on March 31, in which attendees will learn how to edit Wikipedia entries together in order to update articles related to women in STEM. The event is part of the #IfThenSheCan exhibit, a collection of 120 statues of women in STEM displayed around the grounds of Smithsonian museums on the National Mall.

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. 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.