Stay timely and learn more about February days to remember, including a wide variety of holidays, awareness campaigns, cultural celebrations, and days of remembrance.
Black History Month/Black Futures Month, February 1 – 28
Did you know this month-long remembrance began as Negro History Week in 1926? Historian Carter G. Woodson chose the second week in February as a nod to Lincoln’s birthday and Frederick Douglass’ birth & death dates. The original goal was to promote and educate public school students on the history of Black Americans. Later, in 1969, Black students and professors at Kent State University proposed expanding the week to a month. While there are many, many, many places to visit and learn more about African-American history, The National Museum of African American History and Culture is currently one of the best. Celebrate the accomplishments, pride, and futures of Black and African-Americans throughout February!
Tileston v. Ullman, Poe v. Ullman: Supreme Court refuses to hear case on contraceptives.
In the early 1940s, birth control — even giving advice on its use — was illegal in Connecticut. A physician in the state, Dr. Wilder Tileston, entered a suit because, for three women in his care, the risks of pregnancy were too high and endangered their lives. The law, he argued, deprived his patients of the right to life, as well as his abilities to properly practice medicine. The case went to the Supreme Court. Guess what? On this date in 1943, the Court unanimously ruled that Dr. Tileston lacked standing to assert the rights of his patients. They dismissed the case. Another lawsuit against this Connecticut law would appear before the Justices 18 years later in Poe v. Ullman –- with a similar result.
Rosa Parks’ Birthday (1913)
Activist Rosa Louise Parks was born on this day in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her act of refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus was consistent with the way she lived. Parks had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement much of her adult life. She and her husband were involved in many civil rights organizations, and she would eventually become president of her local NAACP chapter. She also helped lead the boycott that came about as a result of her (carefully planned) act of defiance. Known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” she and her husband eventually moved to Detroit, where for over 20 years, she served as the receptionist/secretary for Representative John Conyers, Jr. In addition, she served on the Board of Advocates of Planned Parenthood, set up a college scholarship fund, co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, and even made a cameo appearance on the TV show, Touched by an Angel. In 2005, at the age of 92, Parks died of natural causes in her home in Detroit, but her legacy of activism lives on.
World Cancer Day
Don’t be confused if you see #NoHairSelfie today. February 4th marks World Cancer Day, created by the Union for International Cancer Control. This day seeks to raise awareness of cancer prevention, the need for early detection, and the promise of developing a cure. You can participate a little or a lot:
- tweet something out using #WorldCancerDay,
- join an event or create your own,
- donate, or
- shave your head in honor of someone with cancer (and then upload your #NoHairSelfie).
Check out this resource guide to learn more about cancer’s devastating impact plus more ways to raise awareness.
Trayvon Martin’s Birthday (1995)
Had he lived, Trayvon Martin would now be 24 years old. The world knows Martin as the young victim of a racist vigilante murderer. However, he is remembered by those who knew him as shy, generous, athletic, and interested in sports video games and aviation. Heartbreakingly, the high school junior was killed a few weeks after his 17th birthday. His death, as well as the acquittal of his murderer, is a stark reminder of the never-ending struggle against racist violence, and that Black lives matter. To learn more about Trayvon Martin’s family and life, watch or read Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin. Learn more about the advocacy of Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, here or here.
No one really knows the origin of this formerly religious holiday. Is it an offshoot of the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia, held February 15th? Is it named after the celebration of several Christian martyrs named Valentine, all rumored to have died February 14th? Who know! But what we do know is this: The change from a religious observance to a romantic one can be charted. In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer (of The Canterbury Tales fame) had written a poem honoring an engagement within the English monarchy. In this poem he tied that celebration to the celebration of saints taking place on February 14th. By the 1700s, February 14th had morphed into the holiday that most currently resembles how we celebrate it now. For example, folks in England would give lovers sweets and cards with statements of love (aka “valentines”). Not feelin’ the love this year? Here’s some ideas on how to celebrate as a single.
Public Announcement of the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA)
Originally created to fight prostitution and what was then known as “venereal diseases,” a group of about two dozen physicians, social workers (including Jane Addams!), and educators banded together in 1914 to create the “American Social Hygiene Association.” While many of the organization’s early initiatives linked sexuality and promiscuity, the organization was one of the first in the U.S. to tackle sex education publicly. These days, the modern American Sexual Health Association works to provide information on and advocate for better policies around sexually transmitted infections.
V-day is an organization and a movement with a simple mission –- to end violence against those that identify as women and girls. By using creativity as a catalyst for change, the organization believes that “art has the power to transform thinking and inspire people to act.” The movement began as an outgrowth of Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues. This play, as well as A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer, is now performed across the world on Valentine’s Day, to educate others on violence against women, and to benefit local anti-violence activities. Learn more about V-Day. Here’s a list of V-Day events and campaigns.
Audre Lorde’s Birthday (1934)
Born in New York City, Audre Lorde was a revolutionary poet, teacher, and activist. Even as a young person, poetry informed her life –- she would memorize poems, and use those poems to verbally communicate how she was feeling. She began writing poetry as she entered adolescence and had her first poem published in Seventeen magazine at age 15. A lifelong advocate of social justice, the self-described “black, lesbian, feminist, mother, warrior, poet” stressed the importance of acknowledging intersecting identities, often pointing out when activists failed to do so. In 1980 she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press as a means to promote works by Women of Color. Lorde was appointed State Poet of New York in 1991, and sadly died of liver cancer the next year. In the years since her death, her words continue to be prescient: “… the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house… And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”
Toni Morrison’s Birthday (1931)
Born Chloe Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, author, editor, and professor Toni Morrison turns 87 on this date. Best known for novels including The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Beloved, Morrison has had a deservedly outsized influence on American literature. An avid reader as a child, her early career saw her working as an editor for Random House and teaching. Morrison wrote her first short story –- which would eventually become The Bluest Eye –- while participating in a writing group. In addition to her novels, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner has also written short stories, plays, librettos, and written or contributed to many works of nonfiction.
Amy Tan’s Birthday (1952)
Most famous for her book The Joy Luck Club, author Amy Tan is also an amateur artist and an occasional singer. Much of her work focuses on the relationships between family members, specifically between mothers and daughters. Several of Tan’s works have been adapted into various media, including film (The Joy Luck Club), a children’s tv show (Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat), and even an opera (The Bonesetter’s Daughter). Her most recent book, Where the Past Begins, a memoir, came out in 2017.
The Feminine Mystique Published (1963)
The subject of some controversy since its first printing, this influential book written by feminist Betty Friedan disavowed the media-promoted view that truly “feminine” women could – and should –-only find satisfaction within the domestic sphere (housekeeping, child rearing, etc.). Women felt dissatisfied, trapped, and unable to live up to these expectations, Friedan asserted. The book’s influence on society was so great that The Feminine Mystique became the best-selling book of 1964. While the book was instrumental in launching the second-wave feminist movement of the 60s and 70s, it did not address that these issues were far from the reality many poorer women or women of color faced.
Death of Frederick Douglass (1895)
Born into slavery, the extraordinary life of famed abolitionist, writer, orator, minister, and statesman Frederick Douglass began in 1818 in Maryland. (His birthday is unknown – he chose February 14th). After teaching himself to read, he escaped from slavery, got married, and became an ordained minister in New York. During this period he began attending local abolitionist meetings, and soon began speaking about his life as an enslaved man. In 1845, he wrote his first of three autobiographies. He began to get involved in the women’s suffrage movement, speaking at the famous Seneca Falls Convention. Apparently his speech apparently so moved attendees, they ultimately voted in support of suffrage. In 1872, author and activist Victoria Woodhull chose Douglass as her running mate on the Equal Rights Party ticket, becoming the first woman / black man pair to run for the presidency. Granted, Woodhull’s move could’ve symbolic or involved a bit of PR trickery — because it appears Douglass neither actually accepted the nomination nor consented to “run together.” In his later years, he continued to complete speaking engagements around the world. He died in Washington, D.C. on this day in 1895. A good way to learn more about his accomplishments (of which there are too many to quote here), is to visit his home, now a national landmark.
Unsurprisingly, this day was originally established to recognize POTUS #1’s birthday on February 22nd. Signed into law in 1879 as a day of remembrance in D.C. only, Washington’s birthday became a nationwide holiday in 1885. This date changed to the third Monday in February as a result of 1968’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act – enacted to give Americans more three-day weekends by moving several holidays to predetermined Mondays. Through this legislation, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which was celebrated in several states, but not yet a national holiday, was “combined” with Washington’s. Because Lincoln’s birthday was February 12th, the third Monday in February was seen as a good way to merge the celebrations of two honored presidents. Currently, Presidents’ Day is way to celebrate all of the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.