In 1978, hundreds of Sonoma, CA students participated in “Real Woman” essay contests and celebrated with parades. Little by little, communities and organizations across the country were doing the same. Then in 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week, and Congress passed established it as a national celebration that expanded the entire month of March, thanks to the efforts of the National Women’s History Project.

To celebrate, here are just a few of the amazing women who’ve made history in the fields of healthcare, addiction and mental health:

Betty Ford (1918 – 2011)
Beloved former first lady Betty Ford opened up about and subsequently helped decrease the stigma attached to drug addiction. By overcoming alcohol and painkiller addiction, Betty served as a symbol of hope for effective addiction treatment. In the 80′s, she co-founded the infamous Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, CA. Betty raised millions of dollars for the center, which has treated more than 90,000 people.

Virginia Avenel Henderson (1897 – 1996)
Virginia Avenel Henderson changed the field of nursing when she developed the theory that nurses should aid everyone in the quest for better overall health. Known as the First Lady of Nursing, Virginia graduated from the Army School of Nursing and earned her MA in Nursing Education from Columbia University.

Nancy Reagan
“Just Say No” is a saying coined by this former First Lady, and the basis for her pro-eduction, anti-drug campaign of the ’80s. By traveling the world and appearing on popular TV shows and in music videos, Nancy spread her message to young people and encouraged parents to speak with their children and teens about peer pressure and the dangers of drug use.

Harriet Shetler (1917 – 2010)
In 1979, Harriet founded the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a national advocacy group controlled by parents and relatives of the mentally ill, which operates in more than 1,100 communities across the country. NAMI aims to change the stigma attached to mental illness while working to provide better opportunities for those battling mental illnesses.

The theme of this year’s Women’s History Month is Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Who are the inspiring, innovative women in your life?

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