The significance of March 8th – here’s a little history of a day most often ignored across the US.
The first official National Woman’s Day, held in the US, happened in New York City on February 28, 1909. (The organizers, members of the Socialist Party of America, wanted it to be on a Sunday so that working women could participate.) It was held in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union. Thousands of people showed up to various events uniting the suffragist and socialist causes, whose goals had often been at odds. Labor organizer Leonora O’Reilly and others addressed the crowd at the main meeting in the Murray Hill Lyceum, at 34th Street and Third Avenue.
On March 19, 1911 (the 40th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical socialist government that briefly ruled France in 1871), the first International Woman’s Day was held, drawing more than 1 million people to rallies worldwide. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, most attempts at social reform ground to a halt, but women continued to march and demonstrate on International Woman’s Day.
In 1917 against the backdrop of the First World War, women in Russia, led by feminist Alexandra Kollontai, chose to protest and strike for “Bread and Peace” in Petrograd on the last Sunday in February*. Many historians argue that this revolt proved to be an influential link in the chain of events that led to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II, and the Russian Revolution.
From its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917, the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist and socialist countries. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists from 1936. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, the state council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.
In 1975 during International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March. By 2014, it was celebrated in more than 100 countries, and had been made an official holiday in more than 25.
This year, the organizers of the post-election Women’s March are calling for a women’s strike in their “A Day Without a Woman” actions across the country. They suggest if you cannot take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, that you refrain from shopping and wear red in solidarity. In Ireland, however, supporters of the movement to repeal the Eight Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which outlaws abortion, are being asked to wear black in solidarity. March 8 is still not quite a cohesive international holiday.
Red or black – hope it’s a happy one!
*February 23 in Julian calendar is the equivalent of March 8 in Gregorian calendar
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