Male Dominance Prevails
Less than 2% of public places are named after a woman
Fifty years after the rise of the feminist movement, fewer than 2% of public places in the United States are named after a woman. Society has long paid tribute to famous people by naming a city, or, a building after them. The contributions of women, however, go unrecognized, at least when it comes to putting their name a on building. This tells our daughters their half of the population only warrants 2% of the public recognition.
States, Counties, and Towns Named for Men
Let’s begin with the 50 states. Only two are specifically named after a historical figure: Washington and Louisiana, the latter being the French king and his queen. Maryland and Virginia, however, are given a woman’s name.
There are 3,144 counties throughout the 50 states. Of those only 54 are named after a woman. That’s 54 out of 3,144 or 1.72%. Given this statistic, it is surprising that Kansas named one of its counties after Clara Barton, who founded the Red Cross.
Next come cities and towns. Is the playing field leveler? Actually, no. When we eliminate the names of saints, Greek goddesses, and foreign queens, named by the French and British in the colonial period, almost no town is named after a woman. Many, however, are named after a man like Charleston, Washington DC, Louisville, Johnstown, and others. The few that bear a woman’s name are because the founders named the town after their wife, mother, or daughter. They generally didn’t do so to recognize a woman’s accomplishments. This was pointed out in a 2012 article in in VOA News.com entitled Few Places Named After a Woman.
Streets, Schools, Public Buildings Have Masculine Names
Perhaps a street name would be an appropriate way to honor women. Wrong again. A study by Citylab.com in 2015 entitled Mapping the Sexism of City Street Names found that is not the case. They looked at the names of streets in major world cities: London, Paris, San Francisco, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore. The shocking result is at best, only 27.5% of the streets are named after women. Look at your own town. It probably falls in that range.
Women make up the vast majority of K-12 teachers in the US, and a high percentage of college professors. Certainly, colleges and universities would bear the name of prominent women scholars. Wrong again. An examination of the 149 colleges and universities in the United States named after a person rather than a state or geographic region, 10 are named after the women that founded them; 10 are named after the wife or mother of the founder, 3 were named after the Virgin Mary, 3 after fictional women. At best, only 19% of colleges, mostly private, are named for women and that includes the Virgin Mary and fictional characters with a female name.
What about airports? Twenty-three airports have been named for pilots. Others have been named for prominent public officials like George Bush, Ronald Reagan, John Foster Dulles, and for celebrities like John Wayne. A study of airport names, however, shows that not one of them is named for a woman.
Lastly, one of the most common ways to honor a person is to name a Federal Courthouse after them. An examination of the 246 federal courthouses that are named after a person, shows that only 4 are named after a woman versus 242 named after a man. That equates to 1.63%. The four women honored are: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Sen, Margaret Chase Smith, Representative Elizabeth Key, and Maude R. Toulson.
How This Male Dominance Happened
There is an explanation for this great disparity. It isn’t overt sexism, but rather the consequence of overt sexism. Men who ran government from 1776 did not allow women to vote until the 20th century. By the time women were able to hold office, all the states and counties were named; most courthouses were built; and many colleges already opened. That means that for about 150 years, there were no women judges, mayors, governors, congressmen, or senators to name things after. It took a long time before women began holding office. There have only been 4 women on the Supreme Court and three of them are still on the Court. Women have yet to control a majority of legislative bodies. And, the habit of naming things after men is still among us.
We are not responsible for the sins of our ancestors. We are accountable, however, for our sins if we do not right this wrong.