The United Nations first observed International Women’s Day on March 8 during International Women’s Year in 1975. The inauspicious beginning masks a controversial and colorful history – not the least of which is the date itself. International Women’s Day can be traced back to 1908 in New York City, when thousands of female garment workers went on strike and marched through the city to protest working conditions. In honor of those events, The Socialist Party of America organized the first National Women’s Day on February 28 the following year.
The day was taken international by the German socialist Clara Zetkin at the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen in 1910. She proposed the idea of an annual International Women’s Day to press for women’s rights. In 1911, Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland honored the day on March 19. The date just so happened to be the 40th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical socialist government that briefly ruled France in 1871.
By all accounts, the day was successful as more than 1 million people marched and held rallies worldwide. Additional impetus was provided by the tragic Triangle Fire in New York City that took the lives of more than 140 working women less than a week later.
But that doesn’t explain why International Women’s Day is held on March 8. Enter Russia. In 1913, Russian women honored the day on February 23. After extensive discussion, it was agreed that the day would be held annually on February 23 in the future. So, there you have it. The only thing missing is that Russia used the Julian calendar at the time. On the more commonly used Gregorian calendar February 23 was March 8.
The date was cemented in history when Russian women went on strike in 1917 in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers in World War 1 and widespread food shortages. Despite protests from Trotsky and other male revolutionaries, who wanted to strike on the more traditional May 1, women began their protest on February 23, or March 8 on the Gregorian calendar. One week later Nicholas II abdicated. The rest is history.
So, while the day started with the women’s labor movement in the U.S., it took on revolutionary fervor in Russia which cemented the day in history as March 8. Largely because of its association with socialism and the Russian revolution, the day wasn't very popular in the United States. However, with the events that unfolded in the past few years and the founding of the #MeToo movement, its significance has taken on new meaning today.
Thank you to history.com, time.com and internationalwomensday.com for helping me with the historical facts, For an informative video see.youtube.com/watch?v=RNymYSdBL7s where I captured the image.