NEW YORK—It was 1981 when Congress officially passed Pub. L. 97-28, which both authorized and requested that the President proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” As The Library of Congress reports on, the month grew over the next five years, and in 1987, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 declaring March Women’s History Month. Each year, the sitting President issues their own proclamation in March, once again declaring Women’s History Month.

This year, in his declaration, President Biden said, “This month, as we continue our work to advance gender equity and equality, let us celebrate the contributions of women throughout our history and honor the stories that have too often gone untold. Let us recognize that fundamental freedoms are interconnected: when opportunities for women are withheld, we all suffer; and when women’s lives are improved, we all gain. Let us strive to create a Nation where every woman and girl knows that her possibilities know no bounds in America.”

Women’s History Month 2023 officially wrapped up this week as March turned to April, leaving us with the perfect opportunity to take a look at how we got here, and how the optical community honored this important month.

The idea of a Women’s History Week can be traced back to 1978, History reports, when the school district of Sonoma County, California organized a district-wide week to celebrate women’s contributions to culture and history. Hundreds of students, teachers and faculty took part, and the town organized a parade to celebrate in Santa Rosa, California.

The idea grew from this, and in 1980 President Carter was the first president to declare the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. This declaration was in line with international celebrations, too. The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911, History reports, and the United Nations has sponsored it since 1975.

In the U.S., each Women’s History Month has a theme. 2023’s was “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories,” and “honors women in every community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art and news, pursuing truth and reflecting society decade after decade,” according to the National Women’s History Alliance, which decides each year’s theme.

To honor Women’s History Month in the optical community, the Optical Women’s Association (OWA) shared a timeline of women in optics this March, tracking milestones in history from the first licensed female optometrists (Gertrude Standon, OD and Mollie Armstrong, OD) in 1899 through to today, when over 71 percent of students enrolled in optometry school are female. The timeline spotlights history-making and barrier-breaking women in optics including Patirica Bath, MD, Mae Booth-Jones, OD, and many, many more. Founded in 1997 as a non-profit, the Optical Women's Association marked its 25th anniversary in 2022 and is committed to supporting and promoting the professional development of women involved in all facets of the optical industry.

Many eyewear brands got involved in their own ways this past month, too. De Rigo Rem utilized its all-women’s house brand Yalea to support two initiatives this March: the I Was a Sari project and Women for Women International. De Rigo also released a video in coordination with Yalea this International Women’s Day to showcase the work Yalea does to support women around the world.

Barbara De Rigo, chief marketing officer at De Rigo, said, “As a woman and entrepreneur, I feel especially proud to once again be teaming up with Women for Women International, offering—in this instance—a tangible contribution to improve the living conditions of Afghan women. I greatly desired the development of Yalea, a brand that, in an authentic and sincere way, was an inspiration and support to all women and which, in addition to offering them eyewear styles that enhance the personality and uniqueness of every individual, was also concretely involved in supporting projects that champion the growth, affirmation and independence of women the world over.”

Silhouette partnered with aspiring female astronaut Alyssa Carson on International Women’s Day as part of the brand’s campaign to support young, empowered women. The partnership included both a special edition of the TMA – LaLigne frames and a photoshoot shot by celebrated female fashion photographer, Alex Seifert.

A new program, “Empowering Optical Women Leadership: The Challenge of Eyewear” made its debut at a special multi-pronged session on the first morning of Mido, an initiative of ANFAO, the Italian Optical Goods Manufacturers association in partnership with Italy’s Bellisario Foundation. The event was hosted by Barbara Serra, a well-known journalist and writer in front of an audience of executives and media.

A number of independent ECPs and optical organizations took to social media to celebrate, too, as rounded up in VM's The Independent Eye edition. For many, celebrating being women-owned was a top priority this past month.

This is just a small sampling of the way the optical community celebrated this past Women’s History Month, but it shows how impactful women are in the eyecare and eyewear world. From the doctors to the designers and everyone in between, there is no shortage of women in optics to celebrate—in March and throughout the year.

Optometry Divas celebrated International Women’s Day with a reminder to prioritize your own happiness and purpose. Image via optometrydivas on Instagram

Vontélle Eyewear founders Nancey Harris and Tracy Green celebrated International Women’s Day from the Forbes 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi. Image via vontelleeyewear on Instagram 

The Optical Women’s Association created a timeline of women in optics to celebrate National Women’s History Month. Image courtesy of the Optical Women's Association.

Silhouette partnered with aspiring astronaut Alyssa Carson and fashion photographer Alex Seifert to celebrate International Women’s Day. 

De Rigo Rem’s house brand Yalea honored International Women’s Day through partnerships with the I Was a Sari project and Women for Women International. Image courtesy of Arizoo Sadaat.