Women have traditionally been hidden from history (his-story) by a curriculum that focuses on the public domain of monarchy, politics and militarism, rather than the private domain of families, friendships and everyday lives.

However, due to feminist questioning of what counts as history, the discipline of history has changed. The study of the lived experiences, roles and sexualities of women is now an integral part of history. This has diluted the focus on the influence of male power, in monarchies, politics, and militaries.

This shift came in the early and mid-twentieth century. At that time, historians began to chronicle progress in the women’s suffrage movement and explore the oppression of women in the Western world.

In the 1970s, feminist historians undertook new types of research work. They engaged in literature reviews and oral history projects that told ‘herstories’. The first feminist historians’ works on the body, sexuality, and the lived experience of women motivated ‘second wave’ feminist historians to write works on colonialism, race, and ethnicity.

Now, educators and students can better understand how men and women contributed to the development of societies. Feminist historians have written books and articles that look at women’s organisations, social movements, individual histories and their place in fictional literature. They have organised documents into archives that indicate the importance of women’s personal and public achievements. Before the 1970s, it was difficult to find the names of more than a few women in a history textbook. Today, although there is still a long way to go to attain gender equity, history textbooks explore women’s family life, friendships, romantic affairs, property dealings, and religious importance. The important works listed below show that feminist historians answered the question, ‘Do women have a history?’ with another question: ‘Yes, and what is the best way to tell it?’

Useful Links

The Women’s History Network: The Women’s History Network is a national association with the aim of promoting women’s history and encouraging women and men interested in women’s history. The site contains an excellent list of links, including a large number of the Suffragettes.

About Women’s History: A US-based online collection of materials on women’s history.

Early Modern Resources on Gender: Early Modern Resources is a gateway for anyone seeking electronic resources relating to the early modern period in history (c.1500-1800CE). The link takes you directly to their material on gender and sexuality.

Women’s History Month: This site is a collation of materials on women’s role in history drawing on the collections of  the US Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Further Reading

Berkin, C., M.S. Crocco, and B. Winslow (eds) (2009) Clio in the Classroom: A Guide for Teaching U.S. Women’s History. Oxford, Oxford University Press: This book is aimed as secondary and college teachers. It contains overviews of North American women’s history from colonial times to the present that include ethnic, racial, and regional changes. The books also offers approaches for the classroom, including the use of oral history, visual resources, material culture, and group learning.

Chicago, J (2007) The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation. Merrell Publisher’s Ltd. This book contains colourful photographs and narratives which can be shared with students and drawn upon in any history lesson that wants to put the spotlight on the erasure of women’s achievements.

Claire, H. (1996) Reclaining our pasts: equality and diversity in the primary history curriculum. Stoke-on-Trent, Trentham: This book is mainly intended for teachers and curriculum developers working with the English National Curriculum. It shows how stories, topics and the lives of famous people can set pupils on an inclusive and rigorous study of history.

Cooper, H. (2002) History in the Early Years. London, RoutledgeFalmer: This book is a guide to helping young children explore the past through their environment, family history and story.

Edgington, S.B. and S. Lambert (eds) (2002) Gendering the Crusades. New York, Columbia University Press: This work provides an exploration of the issue of gender in relation to the crusades. It discusses a range of subjects, from the medieval construction of gender to the military participation of women in the crusades. It provides both readings of well-known texts and examinations of newer source material, as well as discussing other topics such as masculinity, the role of female saints and religious figures in the crusades, and the realtionship of crusaders to their families.

Lerner, G. (1986) The Creation of Patriarchy. Oxford, Oxford University Press: Lerner’s radical review of Western civilisation shows that male dominance over women has nothing to do with biology, and everything to do with cultural and historical habits. She draws her evidence from a host of archaeological, literary, and artistic sources, using them to pinpoint the critical turning points in the allocation of women’s roles in society.

Rowbotham, S. (1999)  A Century of Women. London, Penguin: A detailed study of women’s experiences in the US and the UK during the twentieth century. Rowbotham looks at many things including: changes to women’s work, women’s experiences of the first and second world wars and key female figures (such as, politicians, writers and movie stars).


Page author: Jessica Zimmer

Updated: 15th January 2013



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