Rewriting Herstory: Proposing an AP U.S. Women’s History Course

Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Lincoln, Roosevelt, King, Kennedy and Reagan all played critical roles in U.S. history and remain household names. Yet what of Murray, Chisholm, Eastman, Stone and Stanton?


Ms. Classroom wants to hear from educators and students being impacted by legislation attacking public education, higher education, gender, race and sexuality studies, activism and social justice in education, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs for our series, ‘Banned! Voices from the Classroom.’ Submit pitches and/or op-eds and reflections (between 500-800 words) to Ms. contributing editor Aviva Dove-Viebahn at Posts will be accepted on a rolling basis.

We are living in a time when legislation in states like Florida and Oklahoma restricts student access to accurate information about gender and LGBTQ+ history—so it is more important than ever before for the College Board to take a public stand and support access to inclusive women’s history.

America has been forged by the hands of divergent, intelligent and brazen people who came together to throw off colonial rule and set a new course for democracy that has profoundly shaped our world today. Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Lincoln, Roosevelt, King, Kennedy and Reagan each played critical roles in the history of our country and remain household names. Yet what of Murray, Chisholm, Eastman, Stone and Stanton? These women contributed greatly to the success of America, yet remain largely unknown to most Americans, including high school students. 

Jasmin Canada, 17, a senior at Godinez Fundamental High School in Santa Ana, Calif., in an AP class. (Mindy Schauer / Digital First Media / Orange County Register via Getty Images)

As Advanced Placement (AP) students and teachers, we know firsthand that there is a disparity between the representation of women and men in history courses across all levels of education.

In the current AP United States Government & Politics course and with the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, 14 Supreme Court cases are required to be taught across schools. None of the cases, however, address issues of women’s equality.

In the same course, zero of the nine required foundational documents are written by women. And, besides Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” all of these documents were written by men in the 18th century—a time when only white, property-owning men were recognized as citizens of the United States. 

While the lack of female representation in the AP U.S. Government course and beyond is appalling, it is not surprising, given women are still not considered foundational to the American political system.

While women’s rights have progressed since many of the earliest times detailed in the required documents, history courses remain an area where women’s voices, stories and contributions are often left out. High school history students have noticed that most of the time they are asked to study women, their stories are usually lumped in with other topics. For example, the suffrage movement is just a piece of the Progressive Era time-period in AP U.S. History, which does not allow for sufficient study of the innovative political strategies of suffragists and their essential role in our history.

Suffragists putting up a billboard on January 1, 1914, about a forthcoming march to rally for women’s right to vote. (Library of Congress / Corbis / VCG via Getty Images)

While the lack of female representation in the AP U.S. Government course and beyond is appalling, it is not surprising, given women are still not considered foundational to the American political system. Students often enter AP government courses assuming women’s rights are explicitly protected under the Constitution, or even that the 100-year-old Equal Rights Amendment was ratified years ago—none of which is true.

The omission of women from history curricula is both a robbery of female legacy and role models, becoming an undue obstacle for women across generations who seek the inspiration necessary to continue the fight for equality. The lack of named women in the existing College Board courses demonstrates to students that women lack political power and capability, authority within regimes, sovereignty over their physical selves and basic legal rights—which should be an outdated thought process.

We are advocating to change this. As AP history students and educators, we propose the creation of a standalone AP United States Women’s History course. This course would offer highly motivated high school students the opportunity to undertake academic work about women’s history, while earning an opportunity to have access to college credit. Piloting such a course would also provide students the opportunity to engage with a historical narrative in which all students see themselves within the American story.

To rectify this injustice within the College Board curriculum, we have created a petition calling for the adoption of our proposed course. The petition includes a detailed overview of the course’s curriculum, categorized by typical AP periodization. Since the petition’s inception, the course has received nearly 2,000 signatures and support on many fronts, including from many women’s history scholars.

And the course transcends lines of ideology: Its purpose lies in sharing the stories of women who have shaped history—conservative, liberal or otherwise. A full list of proposed topics for this course is available on our website.

Teaching the contributions of women to both society and the political sphere allows students to normalize and celebrate the rightful place of women in realms of power and influence. The youth of America are entitled to these stories traditionally left untold: the history of 50 percent of our population, who are currently a mere sidebar of token inclusion within a generic textbook on men’s history.

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

About , , , and

Kristen Kelly has a M.A. in cultural historical religion from the Graduate Theological Union-Berkeley and has taught AP U.S. Government & Politics, AP Comparative Government & Politics, and AP World History for 18 years at the high school level. Her passion is feminist educational advocacy and she annually presents alongside students at the National Conference for Social Studies, the American Historical Association and the National Women’s Studies Association.
Gabriella Perez is a senior at Burlingame High School in Burlingame, Calif. She has taken a variety of AP courses including AP U.S. Government and Politics, AP U.S. History and AP World History: Modern. Recognizing the lack of teachings about women’s contribution to history in high school curriculum, Perez was thrilled to get involved in the Women’s History in High School initiative, in hopes to expand access to this type of education.
Samantha Pyle is a student at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, Calif., who has taken various AP classes, including AP U.S. History and her current history class, AP U.S. Government and Politics. She is interested in competitive math, political science and women’s history, and she aims to use these passions to foster growth for women in STEM fields.
Kate Ragatz is a current junior at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, Calif. She is a competitive rower, a co-editor of the international feminist magazine GirlTalk, and an individual keenly interested in empowering women as a path to improving the human condition for all people.
Serene Williams earned her B.A. degree from Purdue University and her M.A. from San Francisco State University, both in political science. Since 2001 she has taught numerous AP courses, including AP U.S. History, AP U.S. Government & Politics and AP Comparative Government & Politics.