The full story of Women’s history is not complete. For centuries the study of history ignored women and their contributions. Hence, important parts of the full story of history are incomplete. Leading 20th and 21st century historians and scholars are in the process of writing women back into history which means we are in the process of gaining a fuller understanding of history.
The discipline called “women’s history” began formally in the 1970s. The feminist perspective led some to notice that women’s perspective and earlier feminist movements were largely left out of the history books.
While there had been writers for centuries who had written about history from a women’s perspective and criticized standard histories for leaving women out, this new “wave” of feminist historians were more organized. These historians, mostly women, began to offer courses or lectures that highlighted what history looked like when a woman’s perspective was included. Pioneers in this field include: Gerda Lerner and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese.
These historians asked questions like “What were women doing?” in various periods of history. As they uncovered a nearly-forgotten history of women’s struggles for equality and freedom, they realized that a short lecture or single course would not be adequate. Most of the scholars were surprised at the amounts of material that were, indeed, available. And so the fields of women’s studies and women’s history were founded, to seriously study not only the history and issues of women, but to make those resources and conclusions more widely available so that historians would have a more complete picture to work from.
To study women’s history, a student has to be deal with this lack of sources. That means that historians taking women’s roles seriously must be creative: the official documents and older history books often don’t include much of what’s needed to understand what women were doing in a period of history. Instead, in women’s history, we supplement those official documents with more personal items, like journals and diaries and letters, and other ways that women’s stories were preserved. Sometimes women wrote for journals and magazines, too, though the material may not have been collected as rigorously as writings by men have.