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The Surprising History of International Women’s Day

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tags: womens history, International Womens Day



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● On the socialist origins of International Women’s Day By Temma Kaplan

● The Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day (Jacobin Magazine)

Controversy clouds the history of International Women’s Day. According to a common version of the holiday’s origins, it was established in 1907, to mark the 50th anniversary of a brutally repressed protest by New York City’s female garment and textile workers. But there’s a problem with that story: Neither the 1857 protest nor the 50th anniversary tribute may have actually taken place. In fact, research that emerged in the 1980s suggested that origin myth was invented in the 1950s, as part of a Cold War-era effort to separate International Women’s Day from its socialist roots.

The historian Temma Kaplan revisited the first official National Woman’s Day, held 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.) 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. In Brooklyn, writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman (of “The Yellow Wall-paper” fame) told the congregation of the Parkside Church: “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.”

The concept of a “woman’s day” caught on in Europe. 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.



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