Prequel to the story: On November 23, 1909, there was a labor uprising in New York City in which more than 20,000 Yiddish-speaking immigrants, mostly young women in their teens and early twenties, launched an 11-week general strike in New York’s shirtwaist industry, dubbed the “Uprising of the 20,000.” It was sparked by the impassioned call to strike by a young woman garment worker, Clara Lemlich and sparked five years of revolt that transformed the garment industry into one of the best-organized trades in the United States.
Beginning of International Working Women’s Day…
In 1910–at the Socialist International–an international Socialist meeting in Copenhagen– German Socialist Clara Zetkin proposes there be an annual celebration of International Working Women’s Day to commemorate the 1909 labor uprising in New York–the motion is seconded by Lenin himself.
1911—International Working Women’s Day is celebrated for the first time. On March 8, 1917 (this is where March 8 comes in), a women’s uprising in Saint Petersburg, Russia “for bread and land and peace” is the spark that ignites the Russian Revolution, with a Strike that topples the Czar within four days of the women’s protest. So thereafter, around the world, IWWD is celebrated on March 8.
After World War 2, In the U.S. the “cold war” with the Soviet Union puts IWWD “under suspicion,” as in that period, people who are seen as participating in groups or events that are associated with Socialism or Communism are investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee and are often “blacklisted” and lose their jobs and professions. Because of this, 1947 is the last year, for a long time, in which there is any record of IWWD being celebrated in the U.S.
UNTIL–1968–when The Women’s Liberation Movement–the beginning of the “Second Wave of Feminism” takes it “out of mothballs”, claims it as a feminist holiday and starts to celebrate it.
In 1969–A Berkeley Women’s Liberation Group–one of the organizers is Laura X–organizes the first street action to celebrate IWWD in the U.S. since 1947. There’s a parade in which women dress as female historical figures–and Liberation News Service picks up the story that IWWD is once again being publicly celebrated in the streets of the U.S. and spreads the news to international news services. Many around the world are inspired.
The next year, 1970, International Women’s Day Celebrations are held in 30 countries!
Women’s History Month…
In 1981–pressure on Congress from women’s groups, such as the National Women’s History Project causes Congress to officially institute Women’s History Week.
1987—After five more years of pressure by feminists, Congress expands Women’s History Week to Women’s History Month. The campaign has been influenced by the parallel struggle for official recognition of Black History Week and Black History Month.
IWWD continues to be celebrated around the world on March 8th. Women today define IWWD for themselves as needed in each year and in every country where it is celebrated.
Postscript: There is much of women’s history that most people–including most women–do not know about–because this history has been buried. Joy of Resistance considers it a joy to discover and communicate as much of this history as we can. We believe that know our history and the struggle that has gone into winning the improvements in our lives that we have won through organizing, is to understand how powerful we have been and can be and are–when we organize–and to be inspired to keep up the struggle until we win our full liberation
Happy International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month!