National Women’s History Month serves as a reminder for us to acknowledge the accomplishments of the many women who helped shape history, but who largely went unrecognized.
One of these women is Dolores Huerta. Huerta is best known for founding the United Farm Workers union alongside Cesar Chavez. Together, the like-minded activists worked to improve conditions for farm workers and to fight discrimination.
Dr. Marjorie Sanchez-Walker, professor of history and Latin American studies, spoke about the roles that Chavez and Huerta played in the organization.
“Cesar Chavez was the public voice and union organizer, while Dolores Huerta took on the legal end of the campaign. She was the one to negotiate with the agriculture businesses over the rights of farm labor.”
Huerta is known for the strength and determination that she demonstrated while fighting for what she believed in.
“I remember hearing years ago that a representative of the agriculture business said that the protests and boycotts were not as bad as sitting down with Dolores because she was such a shrewd negotiator,” said Dr. Sanchez-Walker.
Although Huerta’s efforts were specifically directed at helping farm workers, she also made an impact on women. The fact that Huerta was a strong female presence in a male dominated field inspired many.
Although Huerta was an integral part of the United Farm Workers union, Cesar Chavez is more widely recognized.
“They see Cesar Chavez as quite glorious in defense of these ex-patriots and Dolores Huerta is kind of left out of the discussion,” said Dr. Sanchez-Walker.
According to the Dolores Huerta Foundation, “While Dolores was busy breaking down one gender barrier after another, she was seemingly unaware of the tremendous impact she was having on, not only farm worker women, but also young women everywhere.”
Dr. Sanchez-Walker explained why Huerta’s public political image was so important to women, especially Latin American women.
In Latin American culture, “there’s machismo for men and there’s marianismo for women. They are both tasked with protecting the honor of the family. The men would provide income to care for the families, while the women remained good and chaste. The men felt that they have the right to do whatever they want as long as they provide for their family. The women took the attitude of ‘men will be men.'”
Huerta challenged these gender roles by stepping out of the domestic sphere and creating a fierce public image.
Like many women, Huerta was inspired by her mother. After her parents’ divorce, Huerta lived with her mother. As stated by the Dolores Huerta Foundation, “her mother’s independence and entrepreneurial spirit was one of the primary reasons she became a feminist.”
Dolores Huerta is just one of so many women who have helped shape our history. Women like Marie Curie (a chemist and the first woman to win a Nobel Prize), Gloria Richardson (a civil rights activist who focused on the poor treatment of black women in America), Margaret Hamilton (who’s work at NASA helped get man to the moon), and so many more, are often overlooked.
As we recognize National Women’s History Month, let’s take a moment to remember the contributions of the women who have helped pave the way for future generations. These women have inspired young girls to become scientists, mathematicians, and activists, simply by unapologetically following their passions and standing up for the things that matter.