A TIMELINE OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
1907: Fifteen thousand working women hold a hunger march in New York City, protesting dangerous working conditions and asking for a tenhour workday and improved wages. They are beaten by the police.
1908: A commemorative march is held across New York, largely supported by a near uprising of women needle workers. This leads into 1909 and the creation of the first permanent trade workers union for women, International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGW). Forty thousand workers, mostly women, strike and demand changes at work and rights for women.
1909: The Socialist Party of America observes February 28 to commemorate the ILGW strike in NYC, and Eugene Debs (Socialist Party presidential candidate) promotes the idea that there should be a national day for celebrating women, especially women workers. Known originally as “National Woman’s Day,” it was proposed by Theresa Malkiel, a Jewish worker from what is now Ukraine.
1910: The Second International Conference of Socialist Women meets with a wide range of women across Europe. Malkiel and other American activists strike a chord with the powerfully vibrant German Women’s Movement, with its openly lesbian members. German Socialist Luise Zietz suggests an annual International Women’s Day, quickly seconded by activist Clara Zetkin. The Russian delegate, Alexandra Kollontai, supports this proposal; she becomes the first Commissar for Social Welfare under the Bolsheviks in 1918. One hundred women delegates from 17 countries agree to continue promoting the rights of women, including suffrage. The idea is that if women workers get suffrage, it expands the working class vote and thus expands labor rights. March 1911: The first IWD is celebrated with massive demonstrations in Germany and Austria. Women are out there for women’s rights, suffrage, a 12-hour workday, fighting against sex discrimination in the workplace and for the right to hold public office, and calling for the recognition of women in various “nontraditional” fields.
March 25, 1911: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York City. A hundred and forty-six garment workers — 123 women and girls, 23 men — die in the worst industrial accident ever to take place in the U.S. The owners of the factory, wildly culpable, do not spend any time in jail.
January 1912: The “Bread and Roses” strike begins in Lawrenceville, Massachusetts. About 25,000 immigrant workers, most of them women and many of their children, face great brutality from strike-breakers amid frigid temperatures. Shocked, Congress holds hearings on this, and on March 14, the frozen strikers accept upgraded owner offerings.
March 8, 1914: The day is chosen as IWD. Over one million women and men march in Germany, Austria, Denmark, and Switzerland.
June 28, 1914: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sophie are murdered by a Serbian nationalist. Russia supports the Serbs; Germany supports the AustroHungarians. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Serbia line up against Austria-Hungary and Germany and World War I begins.
1915: Workers march in Norway, but other Europeans are not so lucky. The women who developed sisterhood bonds across borders are forced to support their individual nations or face serious charges of sedition, loss of worldly goods and their children, with great public opprobrium.
April,15, 1915: Weary of the World War’s raging carnage, a large gathering of women meets in The Hague. Participants include over 1,300 women from more than 12 countries.
March 8, 1917: Socialists are gearing up for massive demonstrations across Russia, but over 50,000 women run into the streets of St. Petersburg calling for bread and peace. Demonstrations and strikes last over four days to protest the war deaths and the hunger from lack of bread, the war having sucked out the nation’s resources, including its men, leaving the people to starve. This gives birth to the “February Revolution” (according to the Julian calendar then still used in Russia) as more and more women and men leave the factories and take to the streets. Though ordered back to work after the first day, more people walk out of factories daily, leading to mass strikes across Russia and the abdication of Nicholas II just seven days later. A provisional government arises, which gives Russian women rights — to vote, to divorce, access to birth control/abortion — and oversees Russia’s withdrawal from the war. Over decades of war and recovery, IWD continues to spread, and in 1972, the Women’s International Democratic Federation — a coalition of women around the globe, including the southern globe —celebrating Solidarity of women — petitions the United Nations to create an International Women’s Year.
1975: The United Nations adopts IWD, proclaiming and promoting the Year of the Woman as part of IWD. Calls were for the fight against apartheid and all forms of oppression (in the U.S. something so associated with Communists and Socialists means that the country does not expend much energy on it).
March 8, 1977: United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.
In 1993–1994: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) tries to make IWD a holiday in the U.S. The bill never makes it out of committee.
1996: The first year that IWD has a theme: “Celebrating the past, planning for the future.” Each year since has been themed. For International Women’s Day in 2023, the official International Women’s Day organization will run a campaign on the theme of #EmbraceEquity. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ official theme this year is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.”
January 2011: The U.N. proclaims a Day for Gender Equality and Empowerment for Women.