Abigail Adams (Photo courtesy Everett Collection/Newscom)

Abigail Adams (Photo courtesy Everett Collection/Newscom)

It’s all too easy for each rising generation to fall into the trap of thinking that history started when it came of age. As the United States “celebrates” the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique, many people—even the great Warren Buffett—are acting as if this is the first generation of American women to contribute to American history. But women’s contributions stretch back longer than Buffett recalls.

Of course Martha Washington and Abigail Adams make the list of great American women. Martha spent her winters during the revolutionary war with her husband, General Washington, and the military. Abigail Adams served as John Adams’s closest confidant. She was also the mother of our sixth President, John Quincy Adams.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was the “the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war,” Abraham Lincoln remarked. Beecher Stowe’s seminal Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) changed how Americans viewed the institution of slavery. And let’s not forget the other women abolitionists of the 1800s. Spinster sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke dedicated their lives to abolishing slavery.

Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton hosted the first convention of women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York, in1848. The convention and its key document, the Declaration of Sentiments, sought to remind the world that the principles of the Declaration of Independence included women. Instead of listing grievances against a king, these women opposed artificial impediments to their success. Their goal was not to ask government for a host of handouts but to encourage women to meet for more conventions and to assert their right to be self-governing.

Of course, there are also unnamed women who changed America. The New Jersey ladies who, in 1797, were the first women in history to vote. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville marvels at the assertive independence of American women. In contrast to cloistered European women, Tocqueville argues that “before she has left childhood,” an American girl “already thinks for herself, speaks freely, and acts alone.”

Women’s history didn’t start 50 years ago. America is founded on the revolutionary principle that all men and women are created equal. Women’s accomplishments throughout American history have been because of our founding principles, not despite them.

These principles give women the opportunity to choose any role in life and pursue it with happiness. In fact, this weekend we will buy flowers, cards, and chocolate to celebrate the one vocation that women have been pursuing for millennia: motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day!