HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Women's accomplishments were once lost to history

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Civil right leader Rosa Parks once said, "Each person must live their life as a model for others." One person who recognizes the importance of those words is Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Parks has been an inspiration for Sebelius, the former Governor of Kansas.  In a discussion about the importance of Women's History Month, Sebelius cited Parks as a role model who, "in her own quiet way helped spark the entire Civil Rights movement."

The accomplishments of Rosa Parks and women like her represent the need for a continued focus on women in history, Sebelius told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps in a recent interview.

As head of the principal agency charged with keeping Americans healthy, Sebelius is assured of her own place in history. She oversees one of the largest civilian departments in the federal government, with nearly 80,000 employees. She was named one of American's Top Five Governors by in 2005 by Time Magazine.

Sebelius is far from the first woman to serve as Secretary of HHS. The very first Secretary in 1953 was a woman—a little known fact that would be lost to history without the push to recognize women in history. That push did not occur until the women's rights movement reached a peak in the 1970s. March was not established as Women's History Month until 1981.

"I think there is no question that it is always wonderful to learn about women who were real pioneers in various fields, whether they are doctors, lawyers, educators, civil rights leaders, or labor leaders," Sebelius said. "We need Women's History Month because too often the women aren't in the regular history."
    
Parks is not the only woman who has inspired Sebelius in her career.

"There were some great women in Kansas who were early in the suffragette movement, like Mary Lease who really took on the cause of women having the right to vote," Sebelius said. "I am constantly inspired by women who were in the early antislavery movement like Sojourner Truth who led people out of the south."

Sebelius' life has not only been shaped by women of long ago, but also by contemporaries such as "teachers, mentors, and role models who I have looked up to."

One elected official in particular, Barbara Jordan, inspired Sebelius. Jordan was the first African-American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate. She went on to become the first black woman from the south to serve in the House as U.S. Representative, and was a prominent member of the committee that investigated President Richard Nixon's involvement in the Watergate coverup. The investigation led to Nixon's resignation.

Jordan was often quoted as saying that she "never intended to become a run-of-the-mill person." The same could be said of Sebelius in her political career. And while Sebelius is a supporter of Women's History Month, she looks forward to the day when it won't be necessary.

"I'd like to get to a point where we could just look at all of the great contributions of women each and every day when kids learn history and not have just one month," Sebelius said. "Every month could be Women's History Month."
    
CELEBRATE WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH

For more on the achievements and contributions of women in the United States, check out the Scholastic Kids Press Corps' Women's History Month Special Report.

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The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of 32 student reporters who report "news for kids, by kids." Sports, politics, and entertainment are among the topics they cover.