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International Women's day, Santiago, 1989
Holding Our Own has decided to launch our new blog on the annual International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8. The history of International Women’s Day is intertwined with the history of efforts to obtain suffrage for women as well as socialist party agitation to achieve fair conditions for workers in the years immediately before World War I. Workers from the Socialist Party of America declared a National Women’s Day on February 28 which lasted from 1909-1913. In 1910 at the 2nd Annual Conference of Working Women, during the International Socialist Women’s Conference, Clara Zetkin, a member of the socialist German Social Democratic party and the editor its newspaper for women, the Gleichheit, and Louise Zietz, another prominent German socialist woman, suggested the idea of an International Woman’s Day.  On March 18/19, 1911, an International Woman’s Day was celebrated by socialists throughout Europe, but especially Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland.

Rallies took place in cities throughout Europe to protest unfair work policies towards women. Workers in Vienna commemorated the 4th anniversary of the Paris Commune, which had sought to take over Paris and introduce fair work practices for all workers. These women also demanded the vote and in the Austro-Hungarian parliament, male socialist delegates demanded the vote for women. American socialists and suffragists also partook in rallies slightly ahead of the Europeans in Boston at Ford Hall on February 23 and in New York City on February 25 at Carnegie Hall. During World War I many European women socialist activists also protested the war and International Women’s Day became part of anti-war statements. In the United States, International Women’s Day during the war was associated with demands to reduce prices of food.

In Russia in 1917, Alexandra Kollontai, a prominent feminist, organized a socialist celebration at on the date that Americans were celebrating, International Women’s Day, the last Sunday of February of the Gregorian Calendar. This happened to be March 8th in the Western Julian calendar. Women led a demonstration against high food prices and rations and were joined by male workers who led a general strike against the deprivations of the war. The women and workers chanted “Give us bread.” and “Down with the Autocracy!” The riot lasted for days, and two days later, the Tsar ordered the military to shoot the demonstrators. The bloody massacre that followed began the February revolution that led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the rise of the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government eventually was the first national government that allowed women the right to vote.

It is this date, March 8 in the Western calendar which was then adopted by socialist parties throughout Europe, beginning the following year, when on March 8, 1918, Austrian socialist women, led by Adelheid Popp celebrated International Woman’s Day by demonstrating to procure an end to the war. International Woman’s Day continued to be a Communist holiday among socialist and communist parties throughout the world due to the encouragement of Clara Zetkin, and after 1945 was called International Women’s Day. If you want to know more information about the history of International Women’s Day, see Temma Kaplan’s article Commentary On the Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day in Feminist Studies 11, no 1 (Spring 1985) by Feminist Studies, Inc.

As socialist and communist parties in the United States fell increasingly under attack after the 1920s it fell out of favor but was revived in the late 1960s by daughters of American Communists in Chicago at the University of Illinois. In 1975, the United Nations made 1975 the International Woman’s Year, and this led to a truly international observance of the day. Since 1975, women from around the globe have led rallies, organized demonstrations, to celebrate the achievements of women in becoming equal citizens with men, but they have also used the day to warn of the ways in which women are still disadvantaged throughout the world, both in the workforce, in education, in laws and debates about sexuality, etc.

In 2001 a website was created to provide an online forum for the celebration of International Women’s Day. You can see this website at: http://internationalwomensday.com/about.asp#.UTefWNa8425. Numerous companies, non-profit organizations and government bodies throughout the world hold events and campaigns both in celebration and to encourage continued change in the status of women. So as Holding Our Own celebrates another International Women’s Day join us in celebrating in this digital age by reading our new blog!

  1. carmenrau says:

    Thanks for posting, Sean. This is a community blog hosted by Holding Our Own. We welcome you to discuss, share, submit your own writing–creative, informative, ranting, whatever!