Women’s History Month: How State Employed Women Have Impacted Our State’s History

womens history month

By Amal Joury, ICSEW Chair

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I want to encourage you to reflect on the work  the newly-formed Blacks United In Leadership and Diversity (BUILD) business resource group ICSEW does and continues to do.

Since before Washington gained its statehood from a territory in 1889 to now—women have been making an impact in government and laws regarding gender equity in all aspects of society. ICSEW is no exception.

Women’s History Month began as a celebration of Women’s History Week, the week of March 8th. In 1987, Congress passed a law designating March as Women’s History Month.

This year marks the centennial of the 19th amendment, which legalized the right to vote for United States citizens regardless of gender. Thus, the national theme for this year’s Women’s History Month, set by the National Alliance for Women’s History, is “Valiant Women of the Vote”. After decades of lobbying and fighting for women suffrage, women secured the right to vote on August 18, 1920 when the 19th amendment was ratified in the United States.

The fight for suffrage would not have been successful without women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, Sojourner Truth and numerous lesser known women, like Harriet Forten Purvis, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren, Zitkála-Šá, and more. Visit the Exhibit at the Library of Congress to learn more about the long battle women waged to secure the right to vote.

(Editor’s Note: The Washington State Historical Society, is hosting programs in communities throughout the state this year to commemorate the centennial of women’s suffrage, and has several free online exhibits and curricula, and offers some ways you can get involved. Visit https://www.suffrage100wa.com/ for more information.)

As part of the continued legacy of women fighting for their right to vote, and for equal participation in all facets of life, Washington’s former governor, Albert Rosellini, created the first iteration of the Interagency Committee of State Employed Women, ICSEW, in 1963 in response to President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women.  This national commission was established to investigate questions regarding women’s equality in education, the workplace and under the law.

Washington state’s subsequent governors continued this work.  ICSEW expanded to include representation from educational institutes and the judicial system in Washington. In 2006, ICSEW was opened to representation from all state agencies and institutes of higher education.

Most recently, Gov. Jay Inslee reaffirmed ICSEW via Executive Order 16-04 – committing his administration’s support to improving the lives of state employed women.

Part of ICSEW’s mission is examining and defining issues that pertain to the rights and needs of women employed in state government and to make policy recommendations to the governor and state agencies with respect to desirable changes in programs, polices, and laws especially in the area of education, training, career development and other conditions of employment.

ICSEW is also given the authority to advise state agencies on the development and implementation of comprehensive and coordinated policies, plans and programs focusing on the special issues and needs of women in state government.

Please join BUILD and ICSEW in celebrating Women’s History Month by taking time to learn and reflect on our collective national past, honor the sacrifices made by the scores of women before us, celebrate their hard won successes, and create visibility around the gaps that remain. There is still a lot of work to be done to bring us all closer to equality.

For a comprehensive look at ICSEW history, visit our About page.

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Megan Matthews, BUILD chair also contributed to this article.