March is Women's History Month in the United States … the perfect reason to check out an online collection of speeches by famous women at giftsofspeech.org.
It began a decade ago, when a librarian had trouble finding text versions of speeches given by outstanding women. She started collecting them and making them available on something that was still pretty new at the time, the World Wide Web.
KENT: "Gifts of Speech is a website that I started in October of 1996, and we collect speeches by contemporary, influential women on the website and offer them out to the world for free."
Liz Kent is a librarian at Sweet Briar, a women's college in Virginia. She says it is especially critical for young women to have access to the words of prominent women who have made a difference.
KENT: "I think that it is important for them to be exposed to the fact that women's words matter, women's words change the world. And just so they'll know how important women have been in the history of the world."
The Gifts of Speech website has almost 500 speeches now, just the text, not audio or video. A decade ago, when the site first launched, that was because of limits to the technology. Today, it's more a matter of funding. But even in written form, Kent says speeches resonate differently than other kinds of writings.
KENT: "Speeches, you always think of a speech as being made by someone who is important. They kind of have this built-in 'wow' factor, it's kind of a built-in respect because this was a speech that someone made and someone stood up and gave it and people sat in chairs and listened to it usually."
The timeline begins in the mid-1800's with pioneering American women's rights crusader Elizabeth Cady Stanton and carries through to the 21st century and a speech by animal rights advocate Ingrid Newkirk. Most of the women featured are American, but the list also includes Mother Theresa, Marie Curie and many other Nobel laureates.
The design is deliberately spartan, says Liz Kent —
KENT: " ... because we wanted it to load quickly for people who are on dial-up connections. We didn't want to do fancy web technology that would make it difficult for people in foreign countries to get access."
Great speeches by great women online at giftsofspeech.org.