Important COVID-19 information: Our Programs | FAQs | Resources for families

Back to Blog

March 27, 2024

Erased from history: Why women's representation in U.S. elementary social studies curriculums matters

As March comes to a close, Women’s History Month reminds us of the importance of education about women’s contributions to our collective history. For decades, United States school social studies curriculum developers have faced the challenge of condensing America’s long, complex history into a digestible format that can be taught to K-12 students. 

Unfortunately, this challenge has yet to be overcome. Social studies curriculum developers have historically neglected to include the vast history of women’s contributions to society in the United States. In fact, the National Women’s History Museum published a report on the topic where they discovered just how little women are discussed in state social studies curriculums.

In their findings, they discovered that only 178 women are named in state standards and over 60% of them are white women. Additionally, their findings revealed that women’s domestic roles were covered in depth while their greater contributions in other social and political contexts were greatly underrepresented.

pie chart depicting women’s representation by race in state social studies curriculums

The National Women’s History Museum’s findings on women’s representation by race in state social studies curriculums

Researchers also discovered that women’s suffrage tends to be one of the only topics thoroughly covered in women’s history. In fact, of the mentions of women in United States social studies state curriculums, women’s roles in the workforce are only covered 2% of the time while domestic roles are covered over 50% of the time.

Why is it so important that students learn about the complex history of women’s contributions to U.S. history?

While young boys have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in almost any profession, young girls and non-binary students are not afforded that same opportunity. For young children, being able to see themselves reflected in history helps them develop emotional intelligence and self-awareness and can encourage them to pursue greater opportunities in life. 

When young girls only see women reflected in domestic roles, it is no surprise that many feel forced into a homemaking role they may not be interested in. This discourages girls from pursuing opportunities in male-dominated fields like STEM, politics, trades, and more. It can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where girls embrace the domestic roles they see reflected in their history books.

several pie charts depicting where women are most and least represented in selected professions

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ findings on where women are most and least represented in selected professions

When thinking about the importance of representation in a child’s early years, the National Women’s History Alliance noted that, “Recognizing the achievements of women in all facets of life – science, community, government, literature, art, sports, medicine – has a huge impact on the development of self-respect and new opportunities for girls and young women.”

Although there is still a surplus of ground to be covered when it comes to women’s representation in the United States’ social studies curriculum, progress is being made. The Women’s History Museum stated that they plan to continue their work on advancing women’s history in curriculum books. They noted that their plans include, “work with master educators, scholars, and public history experts to create a wealth of materials to support teachers and students.”

What you can do to boost women’s representation

If you’re looking to help young children see themselves represented in educational spaces, consider volunteering with Reading Partners. Reading Partners intentionally aligns our curriculum and book selection with the lives of the students we serve. You can find books about women’s history, Black history, and so many more to read with your student while tutoring.

chart depicting gender roles in children's books; women's representation

Data collected by My Private Professor depicting how gender roles are reinforced through children’s books

However you choose to get involved in this cause, it’s important to remember that women’s history needs to be taught every month of the year. In the words of feminist academic, Dr. Myra Pollack, “Each time a girl opens a book and finds a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.”

It is our responsibility as a society to ensure all children, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or any other external factor, have the opportunity to choose how they will lead their lives.

  • Logo for Accelerate
  • Logo for Five Below
  • Logo for Hellman Foundation
  • Logo for Bezos Family Foundation
  • Logo for George Kaiser Family Foundation
  • Logo for Panda Cares
  • Logo for The Duke Endowment
  • Logo for Deerbrook Charitable Trust

Thanks to our partners

Site by Vermilion Credits Privacy Policy ©2024 Reading Partners