International Women’s Day Has an Unexpected History

By Tiffanie Wen  

03.07.14 12:23 AM ET

This article has been re-shared from it’s original source,


From its early Cold War ties to why it hasn’t reached the Hallmark ranks, a look at the long and surprising journey of International Women’s Day, celebrated March 8.
On March 8, millions of women around the world will observe International Women’s Day, with thousands taking to the streets to demonstrate for equal rights.

If you live in the U.S., though, you may well have made other plans. But don’t feel too bad. The celebration that was born in this country has always done better elsewhere, and for reasons that have nothing to do with apathy and everything to do with history.

The first Women’s Day was observed in the U.S. in February 1909 in a large demonstration marking the one-year anniversary of the 1908 New York Garment Workers’ Strike. Quickly thereafter, women’s days became a rallying point around which people around the world protested war and fought for women’s suffrage. In 1917, a Women’s Day protest in St. Petersburg even triggered the revolution responsible for bringing down the Russian Empire. In 1975 the U.N. established March 8 as its official International Women’s Day and initiated the Decade for Women the following year.

With more than 17 million women living in poverty in the United States alone, over 600,000 women and girls trafficked internationally (PDF) per year, and an estimated seven out of 10 women worldwide reporting they have experienced physical and sexual violence (PDF), why don’t more American women observe International Women’s Day? (Hallmark doesn’t even bother making cards dedicated to International Women’s Day or Women’s History Month.)

According to historian Estelle B. Freedman, the absence of celebrations in this country has less to do with our indifference than it does with the holiday’s long association with the Communist bloc.

“Before World War I, International Women’s Day really took off here during the suffrage and labor movement,” says Freedman, a Stanford history professor and author of No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women. “But then it was sustained as a communist, socialist holiday, particularly after the Russian Revolution. So, during the beginning of the Cold War especially, it wasn’t something that was embraced in the United States.”