The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Women belong in history books

History books on a shelf at Clarion High School.
History books on a shelf at Clarion High School. (Jeff Swensen/Jeff Swensen for The Washington Post)
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Bless Micaela Wells for her Jan. 2 op-ed, “My history textbook’s message: Women don’t matter.” Among today’s students are tomorrow’s world leaders and decision-makers. Their education should truthfully reflect women’s contributions to human achievement.

Maria Roberts, Gaithersburg

Women’s history is often overlooked or undermined in our current curriculums. Instead of being an immersed part of American and world history, women’s history is rarely even a sidebar to the conversation, causing students to have an underdeveloped understanding. Without understanding the depth of women’s history, students fall susceptible to the narrative that women are inferior or contributed less in history — which is not only untrue but also extremely harmful in the long run.

Furthermore, when we learn about women, it is often about their domestic roles in the house and not their righteous acts throughout history. For example, most students know about Paul Revere; however, few know about the 16-year-old Sybil Ludington, whom Ms. Wells mentioned as a woman Americans should know. Sybil rode horseback in the nighttime to deliver a similar message of the arrival of the British.

These integral stories in history are all too often overlooked as unimportant because they center women; however, it is invaluable to ensure students appreciate women’s history as a part of all history — and understand that women are not only equal but also have accomplished amazing things throughout history.

 Prasidha Padmanabhan , Chantilly

Micaela Wells wrote a masterpiece that raised questions about how society is not educating itself about the importance of women. When the world-class Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology allows the use of an AP history textbook that provides only 100 words about women in a chapter on World War II, as Ms. Wells wrote, “women” are abandoned.  

Everyone in this pandemic should know how fundamentally important and creative women such as Jennifer A. Doudna, Nobel laureate, and her co-laureate, Emmanuelle Charpentier, are in today’s science. Their discovery of gene editing via CRISPR enzymes has given the world lifesaving vaccine technologies. It would be good for TJHS to include Walter Isaacson’s book “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race” on the students’ — and teachers’ — must-read lists.

    William Westhoff, Woodbridge

Micaela Wells’s essay on the dearth of content on women of historical significance in today’s history textbooks was truly eye-opening. I graduated from high school in 1964, when inclusion of women in history textbooks was essentially nonexistent. That little, if any, appreciable progress has been achieved in the past 58 years should be a wake-up call to everyone. I recognized 13 of the 20 women Ms. Wells said should be mandatory to learn about. Because of her, I will learn as much as I can about the remaining seven.

Ms. Wells’s essay is a first step in acknowledging that changes and upgrades are needed in our schools’ curriculums.

Vera ReublingerCabin John

Micaela Wells rightly observes that erasing women in history from textbooks hurts children.

Here in the Pasadena Unified School District in California, we are making enormous headway to restore the empty spaces. Five years ago, a PUSD principal and I created a Women’s History Month assembly, with a specific focus on the history of the women’s liberation movement — a movement that changed the American landscape for all but has not been given its due. For instance, before the women’s liberation movement, a student applying to college could legally be denied admission simply because she was female. Feminists changed that.

Feminists have not been significantly noted in our textbooks as changemakers and leaders of our nation. I suspect things would be different now if we had all been taught the details of the women’s liberation movement.

Equal space in textbooks won’t be given to us. We must build a cultural memory of women in history and include it in our curriculums and teaching environments. The textbook authors will follow.

Jennifer Hall Lee, Altadena, Calif.

The writer is a Pasadena Unified School District trustee and
director of “Feminist: Stories
From Women’s Liberation.”

It was disappointing that Micaela Wells, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, did not mention a single female physicist, astronomer or astrophysicist. I can name quite a few: Margaret Burbidge, Maria Goeppert Mayer, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Henrietta Leavitt, Chien-Shiung Wu.

Rosemary Killen, Greenbelt

The writer is an astronomer.

It was ironic that Kathleen Parker’s Jan. 2 op-ed, “Where I went wrong in a year of writing,” appeared in print just below Micaela Wells’s “My history textbook’s message: Women don’t matter.” Ms. Parker wrote about “wokeness” and criticized herself for failing to call it out for “the foolishness it has become — a bludgeon used to stifle dissent and stymie discourse.” But wokeness is simply “a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Clearly, what she should be calling out are those who misuse “wokeness” to stifle dissent and stymie discourse.

Ms. Wells’s op-ed was an excellent example of “wokeness.” She carefully demonstrated how even today’s textbooks “cancel” women’s history and have led to an amazing ignorance of important women in American history. Ms. Wells went beyond wokeness by pointing out (correctly, I believe) that “as we work toward women’s equality, education is holding us back.” She was also correct to write that when women’s accomplishments are omitted from today’s U.S. history curriculum, “it becomes more difficult for students to see how gender-based inequities remain entrenched.”

Far from stifling dissent and stymieing discourse, Ms. Wells was expressing a dissenting opinion about the state of U.S. history education and making an important contribution to the discourse about the subject.

Steve Eckstrand, Rockville