Welcome to Women’s History Month 2024. There are some people I would like you to meet. I am sure you know most of them, but they all have something to tell you.

Let me first share one of my favorite quotes about movie star and accomplished dancer Ginger Rogers, of whom Ann Richards said, “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

When I stop to think of Women’s History Month, a parade of names floods my mind, from ancient history to the current day. Cleopatra ruled ancient Egypt when it was the mightiest nation in the world, at least until running into Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, of course.

Russia’s Catherine the Great ruled Russia with a mighty—and highly decorated—hand. England’s Queen Elizabeth I conquered lands and ruled a mighty nation, and Queen Victoria did an excellent job herself.

Throughout history, women have left a large imprint. Eleanor Roosevelt proved that the woman standing beside a president could wield immense power. Her determination and outspokenness remind me of a quote by Lauren Thatcher Ulrich: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Golda Meir was Israel’s prime minister during turbulent times. When asked what she thought about the difference between women and men, she responded: “Whether women are better than men, I cannot say—but I can say they are certainly no worse.”

Inspirational leader Mahatma Gandhi once remarked: “Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities.” Clara Barton founded the Red Cross, which continues to save lives and bring comfort worldwide. Barton said of her ability to help others, “You must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.”

Without the tireless efforts of suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony, women may have never gained their right to vote. Of her efforts, Anthony believed, “Wherever women gather together, failure is impossible.” Rosa Parks once said, “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.”

Amelia Earhart also believed in setting goals. She believed, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” Earhart so inspired our nation that we continue to look for her plane that crashed decades ago.

My mother always told me how much she admired the fallen aviator. I would ask, “But didn’t she fail? She crashed.” My mother looked at me as if I had no clue, which, at the time, I did not. “You see,” Mother explained, “she tried something that women were taught they could never do. It opened doors in women’s minds, asking what they could do instead.”

Great women have inspired all of humanity. The now-sainted Mother Theresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Aung San Suu Kyi also encouraged us by saying, “You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.” I have tried to live this way.

Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” stirred girls’ minds, generation after generation. I have always been inspired by Miep Gies, the young woman who risked her own life protecting the Franks and Van Pels for as long as she could from the Schutzstaffel.

Reading about such women of courage made me see a broader world. It delighted me when I had the privilege to play Anne in a play drawn from her diary some years after I first read the story of the adolescent girl caught up in the horrors of the Holocaust. Many years later, my daughter, Leslie, played the role of Miep in her high school play.

Since my youth, Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, have inspired me. How could I complain about things being hard to do when Keller had been blind, mute and deaf? Sullivan opened the world to her.

What could we do? When my daughters discovered women’s history, it was a joy to watch them become inspired and look for ways to make a difference as well. Keller’s wise words have stayed with me: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

Women in the arts have also opened doors and inspired others to test the waters. Now experiencing a resurgence of interest, Jane Austen broke the model of women writers with her fresh look at women’s societal roles. The Brontë sisters and Daphne du Maurier’s novels encouraged a new crop of female authors.

Acting roles have broken out over the decades, showing there is no such thing as a typecast of woman. Such stars as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford demonstrated this, and now Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren proved it. One actor who grew up before our eyes was Judy Garland, who offered these wise words: “Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.”

On television, women broke through stereotypes with shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Murphy Brown,” “Julia,” “Murder She Wrote,” and even “Judge Judy.”

The school district of Sonoma, California, began the idea of a month dedicated to women with a weeklong celebration honoring women’s contributions in 1978. In just a few years, the idea had spread across the nation.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation that one week in March would be recognized as National Women’s Week. The following year, Congress made it a national celebration, only to expand it to the entire month of March six years later.

Some people over the years have posed the question: “If women have a month dedicated to them, what month is for men?” The anonymous response is, “Well, they have the rest of the year.” Speaking of being anonymous, one of my favorite authors, Virginia Woolf, once said: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”

As a mother, I have watched doors and ceilings open for my daughters, with the promise of them defining their own futures. Now, my granddaughters and my great-granddaughters can reach even further. That is history in action.

Diana J. Ingram

Diana Ingram has been a columnist for Los Banos newspapers for four decades.