When It's Time to Move On

One of the fascinating characteristics of American life is the tendency to appoint a committee to deal with a problem. But when the solution is found, we often are unwilling to dissolve the committee.

This inclination to perpetuity applies also to organizations that are formed to meet an unmet social need. If the purpose is achieved, the leaders are reluctant to take a victory lap and break up the team that got them there.

Psychologists probably have addressed this insecurity. Surely, someone has written a paper on it. It is not an isolated behavior. You can find it in businesses, academia, government, and the non-profit sector.

Maybe that's why I admire the National Board for Women in Medicine (NBWIM). If you haven't heard of them, they prefer it that way. Because they no longer exist. Because in 1953 the organization was formed for a purpose, and a half -century later, when its members concluded that their purpose had been achieved, they dissolved the organization. What a bold move!

In the 1950's, women physicians and scientists were struggling to win professional respect and recognition, and some influential women from around the country got together to support them. They organized the NBWIM and established a national award to honor annually an outstanding women physician or scientist.

As more and more women entered these fields in the second half of the century, and formed their own professional organizations, the women of the NBWIM, on their 50th anniversary in 2003, turned over their award to the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine and declared the end of their organization.

It is my personal opinion that the time is coming, four years from now, to reconsider another tradition which may have outlived its well intended purpose. That would be Women's History Month.

The Vision 2020 coalition, headquartered at Drexel, is working to achieve women's economic and social equality, with a focus on the year 2020 and the 100th anniversary of American women's voting rights. We want to finish the agenda the women's suffragists began a century ago. And, among other goals, to ensure that the history of women's contributions to their communities, their professions, and their nation is incorporated into our year-round history lessons.

Women's History Month started as a "week" in 1980, but graduated to a month in 1987, thanks to the efforts of the National Women's History Project, now a Vision 2020 Ally. It has played a vital role in raising public awareness of the lack of knowledge of the history of women. It still has to be granted annually by Presidential proclamation.

I believe there is something wrong with setting aside one-twelfth of the year to honor one-half of the population. It would seem to make more sense to include women in the overall approach to teaching history in the classroom, in our literature, in our museums.

Why not aspire to changing this by the year 2020? That allows time to make plans and needed changes, and to recognize that true equality doesn't require a month in the spring. It requires a commitment to fulfilling the promise of our democracy where "We, the People" are all equal.

The year 2020 marks a good time to correct history by making room in it for so many who have waited so long.