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Roots to Remember

The first image is a headline from a newspaper in Saskatchewan, Canada, (The Leader-Post, March 8, 2001, p. 15.)

The first International Women's Day was celebrated by members of the Socialist Party of America (SPA) in 1909. (SPA was founded in 1901.) The celebration was inspired by women garment workers in New York City who, in 1908, had marched to protest low wages and poor working conditions. The second image documents a 1909 event in Buffalo, New York, (The Buffalo Times, February 28, 1909, p. 52.) Labor organizer and fiery speaker Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who was nineteen years old at the time, would be immortalized in a song by Joe Hill as "The Rebel Girl."

The following year, 1910, at International Socialist Women's Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark, Clara Zetkin, a German delegate, and others who were in part inspired by the American celebration proposed that "a special Women's Day" be organized annually. Women delegates from 17 countries supported the idea. A year later, over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland celebrated the day on March 19.

In the Fall of 1917 in Russia, IWD was proclaimed an official holiday on March 8, the day a strike by women spearheaded the Russian Revolution. That marked the beginning of widespread worldwide celebrations with speeches, lectures, concerts, parades, festivals, art exhibits, gift giving, and activism—except in the United States where there were only a few events in big cities organized by socialists or communists. For example, (right image) a 1924 celebration in Chicago that was reported by the newspaper published by the Communist Party USA that was founded in 1919. (The Daily Worker, March 3, 1924, p. 4.)

Celebrations slowly increased in the U.S. with the emergence of the second wave

women's movement in the 1970s. A 1999 announcement in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, newspaper, (left image) notes that it is "Pittsburgh's third annual International Women's Day Celebration."(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 2, 1999, p. 10.) Today, corporations have joined in the celebration, a far cry from IWD's roots in women garment workers protesting low wages and poor working conditions. Roots that are important to remember!

Starting in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed March 8 as an official United Nation's holiday for women's rights and world peace. The theme for 2023 is "DigitAll: Innovation and technology for gender equality."

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