ERIC Identifier: ED319652
Publication Date: 1990-03-00
Author: Holt, Evelyn R.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
"Remember the Ladies"--Women in the Curriculum. ERIC Digest.
In March 1776, Abigail Adams implored her husband John to "...remember the
ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors...." This
plea, unfortunately, did not affect the practical political behavior of John
Adams and other founders of the United States. It was not until the 20th
Amendment to the Constitution in 1919 that women throughout the United States
gained a fundamental right of citizenship: the right to vote for representation
The month of March, National Women's History Month, is an appropriate time to
recall Abigail Adams' statement and to assess how women are treated in history
and in other subjects of the social studies curriculum in schools. To what
extent and how do social studies educators "remember the ladies" in curriculum
development and teaching? This ERIC Digest examines (1) treatment of women in
standard textbooks and curricula, (2) strategies for including women in the
social studies curriculum, (3) available resources for teachers and students,
and (4) justifications for improving treatment of women in the curriculum.
HOW HAVE WOMEN BEEN TREATED IN SOCIAL STUDIES TEXTBOOKS AND CURRICULA?
Textbooks are staples of teaching and learning in schools, and
a student reads more than 32,000 textbook pages as he or she moves from
elementary through secondary school. What images of women are presented on these
Several textbook studies of the 1970s revealed slight coverage of women in
history and other subjects of the social studies, and the few references to
women in the textbooks tended to convey one-sided images of dependency,
domesticity, and passivity--negative stereotypes rather than balanced and
realistic portrayals of changing roles in modern society (Wirtenberg et al.
1980, 12). A 1972 study of 172 textbooks and supplementary materials used in the
Kalamazoo, Michigan school system concluded that there was pervasive sexism in
the curriculum. A 1978 study of textbooks and supporting materials used by the
Michigan Department of Education yielded similar findings. All materials were
flawed, especially in sex bias and treatment of Amerindians, and handicapped
people. Garcia and Woodrick (1979) concluded from their reviews of textbook
studies and widely used textbooks that much needed to be done to more accurately
depict both white and non-white females.
Coverage of women in textbooks increased throughout the 1980s. Neither the
quality nor the quantity of these treatments has been adequate, however. Too
often, women have been included in the margins of textbook content instead of at
the core, as tokens or bit players rather than as major actors in the mainstream
of history. "Great women" in history, for example, have been exhibited in
photographs or special biographical sketches apart from the textbook narrative.
The usual token females in United States history textbooks have been Mercy Otis
Warren or Abigail Adams in the founding period, Sacajawea with the Lewis and
Clark expedition, Harriet Tubman with the abolitionist movement, Jane Addams in
conjunction with immigration and urban development, Susan B. Anthony as a
champion of women's suffrage, Eleanor Roosevelt and Francis Perkins during the
New Deal era, and Jacqueline Kennedy as the beautiful, bereaved widow of an
There has also been a tendency to feature female "firsts" in history--Marian
Anderson as the first black opera star at the Met, Sandra Day O'Connor as the
first female Supreme Court Justice, Elizabeth Blackwell as the first female
physician in the United States, Amelia Earhart as the first female aviator, and
so forth. These women, though deserving recognition, seemingly have been
included more as an after-thought, separated from the main themes in the
textbooks and curricula of elementary and secondary schools. Little recognition
has been given to the brave pioneer women facing the perils of the western
frontier, to the women working on farms and in factories, to the women in the
labor movement, or to women as sustainers of families in urban and rural
WHAT ARE SOME STRATEGIES FOR INCLUDING WOMEN IN SOCIAL
Educators today are calling for integration of women in the various
subjects that constitute the social studies curriculum, e.g., history,
geography, civics, economics, sociology. For example, Gerda Lerner, the
prominent historian, emphasizes that "women's history exists always within the
context of universal history" and that the actions of women "take place within
the context of the political and social life shared by men and women" (1981, 3).
Women and men together create the history of humankind, so they should be linked
in the curriculum as common contributors to the key events and developments of
the human experience.
In addition to the preceding suggestions for integration, women can be
incorporated in the curriculum in other ways. In economics, study the
inequalities of income distribution and investigate why these inequalities exist
in the society. Analyze labor history and research what roles women played in
the early labor union movement. Examine studies done on the unpaid sectors of
the economy, where much of women's work falls. Study other cultures and
economies for comparisons to the U.S.
In sociology, in addition to examining the socialization process for women,
also examine charges of sex discrimination in the U.S., and what these charges
are based upon. Contact the sex equity division of the state government to see
what programs are available and what the state is doing to ensure sex equity
under the law. Research the roles of women in other cultures and examine how
those roles have changed over time.
Political science classes can research significant court cases that have
influenced women's rights in our country, and can examine the recognition of
women by the legal system, beginning with the law of coverture in the colonies.
Compare the rights of women in the United States with the rights of women in
other countries. In recent times, as more countries are calling for greater
democratization, women also are calling for greater rights within that system.
Geography, world history, and world studies can involve the analysis of the
status of women in other countries and at other times to see what rights, if
any, women enjoyed in various societies. What did/does it mean to be female in
these nations? Compare and contrast the roles of women in urban and rural areas
within the country. What have been women's roles in the history of the nations?
Who were the notable women in history? What influence has geography had on
development, particularly as related to women?
In United States history, focus not only on the notable token women but also
on the unsung heroines who went into the offices with the invention of the
typewriter and on how business changed as a result of this expansion of the
workforce. When teaching about Dorothea Dix's crusade for more humane treatment
of the mentally ill, research the conditions under which the mentally ill were
kept. When teaching of Margaret Sanger's work in disseminating birth control
information, teach about the poor with whom she worked and the misery of poverty
for the large immigrant families she attended. Put these notable women into a
social context so that the conditions they encountered are understood, as well
as the actions they undertook. But do not forget the masses of ordinary women
who sustain and improve society in the workforce, in the struggle for equality
under the law, in the family as parents, and in various other ways.
By integrating women's studies into all aspects of the social studies, the
curriculum will coincide with Recommendation Seven of the report of the Bradley
Commission on History in Schools: "That history can best be understood when the
roles of all constituent parts of history are included; therefore the history of
women, racial and ethnic minorities, and men and women of all classes and
conditions should be integrated into historical instruction" (1988, 8).
WHAT RESOURCES ARE RECOMMENDED FOR TEACHERS AND
Resources are available at the international, national, state, and
local levels. The International Center for Research on Women, 1717 Massachusetts
Avenue, NW, Suite 501, Washington, DC 20036, works with developing countries
worldwide. They disseminate their findings to those concerned with economic and
socioeconomic issues of developing nations, especially with those relating to
The International Women's Tribune Center, 777 U.N. Plaza, Third Floor, New
York, NY 10017, answers requests for information and technical assistance for
those involved in women's projects on women in development activities, and seeks
to develop communications methods and educational materials with regional
The National Women's History Project (NWHP), P.O. Box 3716, Santa Rosa, CA
95402, offers a wide variety of resources on women's studies. It was initially
through the efforts of the founders of this project that the recognition of
March as National Women's History Month was accomplished. Beginning as a county
celebration in 1977 in Sonoma County (California), the movement spread to a
co-sponsored Joint Congressional Resolution for National History Week in 1981.
Contact them for information on other women's studies resources and information
on celebrating National Women's History Month.
The Upper Midwest Women's History Center, Central Community Center, 6300
Walker Street, St. Louis Park, MN 55416, was funded in 1980 by the Women's
Educational Equity Act. The resource center serves as a repository for women's
materials from worldwide sources, assists teachers with curriculum materials and
suggestions for women's studies, and can aid communities and schools in better
integrating women's studies.
Toward the end of the 1980s, THE FEMINIST TEACHER emerged as a
reader-developed magazine with the purpose of improving education about women
and gender-based issues. The editorial office address is 442 Ballantine Hall,
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. The magazine contains articles and
research on women's studies in addition to teaching suggestions and strategies.
As Abigail Adams entreated her husband to "...remember the ladies...," so we
too should remember them in the curriculum. Half of the story of human life is
omitted without it. If we are truly to educate the total person, we can no
longer afford to leave women out of the curriculum.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are in the ERIC system and are available in microfiche and paper
copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about
prices, contact EDRS, 3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22304; telephone
numbers are 703-823-0500 and 800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are
annotated monthly in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION), which is
available in most libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS;
however, they can be located in the journal section of most libraries by using
the bibliographic information provided below.
Anderson, Bonnie S., and Judith P. Zinsser. "A History of Their Own: Women in
Europe from Prehistory to the Present." Two Volumes. New York: Harper & Row,
Bradley Commission on History in Schools. "Building a History Curriculum:
Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools." Washington, DC: Educational
Excellence Network, 1988. ED 310 008.
Constantinople, Anne, and others. "The Chilly Climate: Fact or Artifact?"
Journal of Higher Education 59 (September-October 1988): 527-50. EJ 380 262.
Garcia, Jesus, and Carol S. Woodrick. "The Treatment of White and Non-White
Women in U.S. Textbooks." Clearinghouse 53 (September 1979): 17-22. EJ 219 183.
Jeffrey, Jan, and Barb Craft. "Report of the Elementary School Textbooks Task
Force." Kalamazoo, MI: Kalamazoo Public Schools, 1973. ED 127 234.
Klein, Susan S., ed. "Handbook for Achieving Sex Equity through Education."
Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985. ED 290 810.
Lerner, Gerda. "Teaching Women's History." Washington, DC: American
Historical Association, 1981.
Social Studies Textbook Review Committee. "1978-79 Michigan Social Studies
Textbook Study." Lansing: Michigan State Board of Education, 1979. ED 196 762.
Tetreault, Mary Kay Thompson. "Women in America: Half of History." Chicago,
IL: Rand McNally & Company, 1978. ED 171 639.
Wirtenberg, Jeana, Robin Murez, and Rose Ann Alspektor. "Characters in
Textbooks: A Review of the Literature." Washington, DC: United States Commission
on Civil Rights, 1980. ED 190 718.