A Brief But Fascinating History of International Women’s Day

Mar 07, 2017

For a lot of people in the U.S., International Women's Day just isn't that big of a deal.

Before this year, one could argue that few Americans knew this "holiday" existed. Others who did know about it likely shrugged it off as yet another hashtag holiday (see: National Peanut Butter Day) social media marketers created to get consumers' attention.

While the organizers of the Women's March on Washington have helped bring greater attention to IWD, the first time it was observed was back in Feb. 28, 1908. About 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay, and the right to vote. On the same day the following year, women staged another demonstration — this time with the blessing of the Socialist Party of America. They continued to do this on the last Sunday of February each year until 1913.

Since European women were staging their own demonstrations at different times throughout this same period, a consensus was reached in 1913 to observe IWD on March 8. It's the day women around the world have observed ever since.

Why March 8 specifically? The chosen date commemorates the women's march in Petrograd, Russia, that sparked the Russian Revolution in 1917. Yes, that's worth re-stating: Women's demands for equality sparked one of the most significant events in modern European history. Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky wrote had this to say at the time:

...We did not imagine that this 'Women's Day' would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike... all went out into the streets.

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Many women since have forgotten or overlooked the day's historical significance. Russian women, despite their former revolutionary fervor, typically receive flowers and chocolates from their significant others, having traded Soviet war songs for romantic dinners in the latter part of the twentieth century.

This year, however, there is a renewed focus on IWD's roots. On Wednesday, people across the U.S. will participate in "A Day Without A Woman" — a movement that seeks to highlight the role that women play in the domestic and global economy. It also aims to bring attention to the lower wages, sexual harassment, discrimination, and job insecurity that women still face.

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