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March is Women’s History Month, a time when the world celebrates women and their important contributions throughout history. It’s an opportunity to recognize the far-reaching achievements of women—as well as a reminder that there is still much work to be done to reach gender parity.
Where Delaware stands
In Delaware, the average full-time working woman earns 81 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families in 2015. But gender equality is more than just one statistic, according to Dr. Marie Laberge, assistant professor of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Delaware.
Dr. Laberge says she’s been a lifelong activist at heart, but that a major turning point for her was fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment in Florida following her college graduation. “We were not successful and we still do not have an Equal Rights Amendment,” she says. This amendment was designed to improve gender equality nationwide.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, only 24.2 percent of the seats in Delaware’s state legislature are held by women—and throughout the state, inequality is even greater for women of color. For every dollar men earn in Delaware, Hispanic women earn about 60 cents, and black women earn about 72 cents. “There is still a glass ceiling, in terms of promotions and making other businesses more conscious of what those invisible barriers are,” adds Dr. Laberge.
Leaders over time
Women in Delaware and beyond have been fighting for centuries for equal rights—from the right to a college education to the right to vote to the right for equal pay. Some didn’t set out to be sources of inspiration but have nonetheless left a lasting impression on our small state.
Dover native Annie Jump Cannon was born in 1863. After studying at Wesley College and then graduating from Wellesley College, she was one of the first women in her field of astronomy. Not only did she face the hurdles of being a woman in the sciences in the late 1800s to early 1900s, but she also dealt with being nearly deaf for most of her life. Cannon discovered over 300 stars during her career and helped to develop the current classification system of stars, called the stellar classification.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born in Wilmington in 1823, but moved at a young age to Pennsylvania after it became illegal to educate African-American children in Delaware. She went on to earn a degree at Howard University School of Law, becoming the second black woman in America to do so. Shadd Cary was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Delaware Women as an activist for all. She was an active abolitionist throughout the Mid-Atlantic, the first black female publisher and newspaper editor in North America for Provincial Freeman, and an early member of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Wilmington-born Mabel Vernon was a suffragette who devoted her life to gender parity. The Honorable Roxana Cannon Arsht served as Delaware’s first female judge. Delaware saw its first female governor, Ruth Ann Minner from Milford, in 2001.
Celebrating Women’s History Month
You can start by simply saying ‘thank you’ to the women in your life who have made an impact. Here are some additional ways to get involved within your community:
- Pop some popcorn and enjoy the University of Delaware’s 30th Annual Women’s History Film Series. All films start at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public. Here’s the upcoming schedule:
- March 7: “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry,” presented by Mary Jean Collins of Veteran Feminists of America
- March 14: “Gloria: In Her Own Words,” presented by Dr. Laberge
- March 21: “Maquilapolis,” presented by Suzanne Cherrin of the UD Women and Gender Studies Department
- Attend the Women’s Day Celebration in Bridgeville at Heritage Shores on Wednesday, March 23, hosted by Delaware Technical Community College and the Owens Campus Alumni Association. Tickets start at $40, and dinner is included. For more information, head here.
- Check out the “Women of Rehoboth” exhibit at the Rehoboth Beach Museum.
- Write to your representative. (Find out who your local legislator is here.)
- Attend the 35th anniversary of the Hall of Fame of Delaware Women on March 24. Tickets are free for members and start at $40 for non-members. They can be purchased here.