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March Is Women’s History Month



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March is Women’s History Month and Newtown is rich with stories of female trailblazers who influenced American history.

Every year, the 31 days of March is designated Women’s History Month by presidential proclamation. The month is set aside to honor women’s contributions in American history.

Women’s History Month began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. The organizers selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day. The movement spread across the country as other communities initiated their own Women’s History Week celebrations the following year.

In 1980, a consortium of women’s groups and historians — led by the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women’s History Alliance) — successfully lobbied for national recognition. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week.

Women have been leaving their mark the world over, throughout history, but this column is focused on the accomplishments of the women of Newtown.

Jane Eliza Beach Johnson completed the tome of Newtown’s earliest history, Newtown 1705-1918, begun by her husband Ezra L. Johnson.

Susan Scudder and Edith Mitchell were the first and second women elected to the school board, when Newtown schools were nascent.

Many of Newtown’s iconic buildings are thanks to the generosity of Mary Elizabeth Hawley, who in the 1920s and 1930s determined to use her inherited wealth to enhance the town.

Ginny Lathrop founded the Lathrop School of Dance in 1951, introducing generations of dancers to the magic of entertainment. Following in her fancy footsteps, “Miss Diane” Wardenburg and currently “Miss Tamra” Saric continue the legacy.

Mae Schmidle represented Newtown for five terms at the state level, succeeded in having our Main Street flagpole preserved for posterity, and committed herself to endless civic and political activities with a zeal that could only be envied by those who encountered her.

Julia Wasserman was yet another woman elected to represent Newtown, for 18 years. Having escaped Nazi Germany, her life was one of energy and determination, serving in the Women’s Army Corp, on town boards and commissions, and eventually representing Newtown, always with the town’s well-being at the forefront of her mind.

We cannot fail to mention Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who rushed into death on 12/14 to protect others, as well as fellow educators Mary Sherlach, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D’Avino, Victoria Soto, and Anne Marie Murphy. Their names are synonymous with “heroine” and are forever etched in this town’s history.

The achievements of women over the past 300 years of Newtown women who have paved the way, who have been unafraid to take on a cause, stand up for their beliefs, and be the moral compasses of their times, helps those today find the strength and pride to strive for achievements of their own. In turn, today’s heroines are tomorrow’s historical figures.

You know an incredible woman, so tell her — if not this month, any month.

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