How Women’s History Benefits Girls, Boys, and You

History Smiths

The short answers are:

For girls, it’s about self-esteem and convincing them that, Yes they can.

For boys, it’s about learning to respect women and girls.

These are two incredibly important and central issues facing young people today, and the future of our society, frankly.

Women’s history can play a role depending on how it’s presented. As dull and boring? No way. As inspiring, fascinating, fun, and filled with courageous role models, ideas, and solutions? Absolutely!

But herein lies the problem. Women’s history is not being taught to students under college age, and even then it’s elective. If young people do hear dribs and drabs about Abigail Adams, why should they care? She’s been dead for 200 years.

I’ve been interviewing young women, their teachers and parents, for the book I’m working on and what I’ve been hearing breaks my heart.

No knowledge of women’s history and no interest, combined with very serious self-esteem issues for girls around having babies too young, getting involved with the wrong boys, not seeing a future for themselves, not knowing or believing in their talents.

Yes, yes, I know there are exceptions, thank God, and there are some wonderful parents and teachers out there, but I keep hearing this across the economic spectrum.

And here’s where you, your business, or organization can play a leadership role. It will come back to you.

• Find the talented women’s history folks in your community and sponsor a talk where you know young people will show up – a Saturday afternoon talk at your public library, girl scouts or boy scouts (yes, just don’t tell them what it is), an after school program, a special walking tour, a kids-only tour through a woman’s home – find out what would be fun and interesting in your community, and an engaging person to do it.

• Sponsor a school project. In Boston, for the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, 5th graders created mini walking trails in their school’s neighborhood. They researched deceased women, and interviewed “live” ones. Boys and girls really “got it.” Students could also research and create displays, write a play, shoot a video, conduct oral histories – there’s no shortage of ideas out there.

• If an organization in your community is already trying to “do something” with women’s history that you know will have an impact, offer your support. Money is always welcome, but so is your endorsement and your proud affiliation as you let your customers, clients, and members know what you are doing and why.

In fact, all of these ideas mean terrific press opportunities for you and special events as projects get underway and are completed. Publicity and events around this work lead to good will, customers, and long memories.

Please also make a point of meeting the students involved. Tell them you are proud of them. Take an interest. Find a way to display what they did at your place of business or organization. 

For some of these young people, especially girls, they don’t hear “Well done!” enough in their lives. You would be surprised how little encouragement it takes from just one adult to make a difference in their lives.  

A quick story… 

I recently gave a talk about women during the Civil War for the Framingham (Massachusetts) Public Library. Afterward, a very shy girl, about 12, and her mother, approached me. Her mother asked if I would please give my talk at her daughter’s school because “these girls never hear this information and they would be so inspired.” Her daughter, who kind of hid behind her mother, said nothing, but she just kept nodding and I could see she had really gotten something out of what I had said. I have no idea what, but something. I wish I could have spoken with her privately.

Good for the Framingham Public Library for hosting this Saturday morning talk because where else would this young girl have heard it? Will she think about what I said? Probably. Will her mother find ways for her to go further? No doubt.

So…you never know, and wouldn’t you feel proud if you knew that you, your organization or business, had made a profound difference in the self-esteem of a young girl as she stood on the threshold of deciding whether or not she was worth anything.

I think so!!!  

Harrison Bennett, the President and CEO of History Smiths, is an expert on using history in new and innovative ways. She is a marketing, PR, event planning, and cultural tourism professional who also happens to be a respected historian (especially women’s history), author, and public speaker. Her companion website is called Women Make History.