I’m always curious about the history of a tradition. History is such a huge tapestry of people, places, and movements. Though we don’t remember all the names, their impact is still felt in one way or another in the modern day. And history, no matter how set in stone, never stops changing. With the benefit of hindsight, we’re offered different contexts for events and actions of our historical heroes and antagonists.
In this post, I would actually like to take you all along on my journey in figuring out the history of International Women’s Day (/Month).
I first learned about this holiday last year when I was working as a marketing intern at a local nonprofit. I was tasked with crafting a blog post about the many notable women who helmed the organization. I’m still confounded that I never heard about this holiday until that point. Or at least, its officialness on the world stage. I learned not only was it a thing, but it was also a movement promoted on the United Nations webpage. (This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter emphasizing gender equity in all aspects of life. Seriously, check it out).
And then I wondered, “How did all this start?”
Turns out, the activist side of the holiday is a callback to the IWD’s roots.
The very first Woman’s Day (no, the singular is not a typo) was held back in the United States in 1909. The occasion was an attempt to bring women together for the suffragist and socialist movements under one banner. It’s where Charlotte Perkins Gilman gave the famous line “It is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood…[but] home should mean the whole country, and not be confined to three or four rooms or a city or a state.”
From there, the movement spread to Europe where they used it to advocate for worker’s rights. This fell to the wayside at the onset of World War I as women’s attention in Europe went to mobilizing the home front.
Except in Russia. Russia is the place that solidified IWD as a holiday. Around 1917, women came together to lead demonstrations and marches against the deteriorating living conditions as a result of the country’s involvement in the war. Alexandra Kollontai, a notable feminist, led the demonstration. This event led to a chain of events that brought about the Russian Revolution and abdication of the Tsarist regime. Recognizing the contribution of these women, Vladimir Lenin declared Women’s Day a Soviet holiday in 1918.
The practice spread to other communist-led countries like China and Spain. Due to this and the onset of the Cold War, the holiday wasn’t really picked up in the West until several decades later. It wasn’t until 1975 that the United Nations made IWD an international event.
The holiday is tied to so many movements throughout the course of the 20th century. Suffragist, worker’s rights, pacifism, communism, and things in between. Advocates came from all over the class spectrum advocating for rights that women were owed. And though they didn’t all agree at the time, the strides they took led to our current landscape. Make no mistake–it still needs a lot of work but we’re writing chapters to the ongoing historical narrative.
Happy Women’s Day everyone!