First National Women’s Day Declared by American Socialist Party
The first observance of National Women’s Day took place on February 28, 1909 in accordance with a declaration made by the Socialist party of America, and was subsequently celebrated on the last Sunday of February every year. The following year the Socialist International met in Copenhagen and gave Women’s Day an international character. The main thrust of the movement was to give women equal rights with men, especially in the desire for universal suffrage (voting rights) for women.
On March 19, 1911 over one million men and women participated in rallies throughout Europe and the US to give women the right to hold public office, vote, work, and receive vocational training and end job discrimination. The following week on March 25, the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York claimed the lives of 140 young women and girls, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants. This disaster lead to crucial changes in labor laws in the United States, legislating humane working conditions for all workers.
International Women’s Day Precipitated the Russian Revolution
In subsequent years the day was used to protest for peace, especially when World War I was brewing on the horizon. In 1917 Russian women took to the streets for “Bread and Peace” in the wake of 2 million Russian soldiers who had been killed during WW I. Despite the fact that political leaders in Russia were against the timing of the strike the women protested anyway, on International Women’s Day, which fell that year on February 23 according to the Julian calendar, which was then still in use in Russia. Four days later the Czar was forced to resign his leadership and the provisional government that was established subsequently gave women the right to vote.
Because February 23rd in Russia was March 8 in the United States and most other places around the world, International Women’s Day is now universally recognized to fall on March 8 every year.
The UN and International Women’s Day
Today the United Nations takes an active role in supporting the goals of International Women’s Day, promoting and protecting the rights of women all over the world. When the UN Charter was signed in San Francisco in 1945 it was the first and only internationally recognized agreement which stated that a fundamental human right was equality regardless of gender. The foundationall idea fueling the drive to giving women full equality is the belief that there can never be a real, lasting solution to the world’s most threatening political, social and economic problems without the total participation and complete empowerment of the women of the world.