By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
NASA has confirmed that the first all-female spacewalk occurred on Friday, three days earlier than planned. The operation, which involved replacing a failed power controller, was originally scheduled for Monday. The occasion is a microcosm for women in history.
According to the article on NASA’s website, the spacewalk lasted over seven hours, ending at 2:55 p.m. EDT. The mission of the spacewalk was carried out by Flight Engineers Christina Koch and Jessica Meir. Founded over 60 years ago, NASA has increasingly added women to its ranks as more and more women pursue working in the space industry and also seek out becoming astronauts in the U.S. space program. Women often face challenges breaking down social barriers, especially in the workplace, making Friday’s spacewalk a further achievement for women in the workplace.
Women’s History Month
Women’s History Month is celebrated in March of each year. The designation started almost 40 years ago. “1980 was the year that women’s history got a week authorized by Congress; and then in 1987, it got the whole month,” said Dr. Joyce E. Salisbury, Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. “I began to hear about this project in the late ’80s, and the project started by having more women put back into the past—well, bringing them back up into the present.”
In this description of events, Dr. Salisbury is referring to the National Women’s History Alliance, a nonprofit organization founded in 1980 that has sought to emphasize women’s roles in educational curricula, dedicated to honoring and preserving women’s history. It was formerly known as the National Women’s History Project.
At the time, Dr. Salisbury’s area of study was patristics, the study of the writings and the background of the church fathers. She was asked to join the project. “I was invited to write about women in theology,” she said. “I wrote about Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Genoa and I was stunned to see that these women were doctors of the church—indeed, church mothers, instead of all the ‘church fathers’ [that] I had studied.”
Dr. Salisbury said that her teaching and her writing became enriched by her early involvement with women’s history, but that was just the beginning.
Women’s History Gains Momentum
“Things got even more interesting through the women’s history month project, because people began to look and say, ‘Really, this situation is much more complex than just bringing women in’—that there’s actually a different dynamic, that maybe people could study men’s history differently and gender studies differently,” Dr. Salisbury said.
The study of women in history then gained additional momentum in the 1990s, with a push to study the history of sexuality and the role it’s played in the interaction between the sexes. The call in the 1980s for teaching women’s history opened the floodgates for teaching sexuality, and since sexuality deals with both men and women, women in history became more integrated into the mainstream teaching of American and world history.
“Women moved out of the margins,” Dr. Salisbury said. “We were no longer a footnote, or even a sidebar, in a standard history text. Society and history aren’t about a stray woman stuck aside, or even a stray interaction put somewhere else—in fact, the best history draws together the relationship between men and women in a rich, social history, as they create society.”
The landmark of historical importance of Friday’s spacewalk may not be felt culturally for years to come, but for now, it’s certainly a step in the right direction—or maybe a giant leap.
Dr. Joyce E. Salisbury contributed to this article. Dr. Salisbury is Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, where she taught history and served as associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of International Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Medieval History at Rutgers University, specializing in religious and social history.