International Women's Day History

IWD Timeline

1907 The Early Beginnings

A common version of the beginning of International Women's Day starts in 1907, with a march of textile women workers in New York. Amidst public discussion about the conditions of textile workers and women's campaign for suffrage, about 15,000 women working in needle and textile industries marched through New York City. The demonstrators sought to commemorate police brutality encountered in a women workers demonstration in 1857, as well as demanded shorter work hours, better pay and voting rights.
However, in her book On the Socialist Origins of International Women's Day, Temma Kaplan (1985) argues that these demonstrations might not have actually taken place and that their myth was created during the Cold War to displace the socialist roots of International Women's Day.

1909 The First National Woman’s Day in the US

The first national Woman's Day —note the singular "woman"— was held across the United States on February 28, 1909. Charlotte Perkins Gilman addressed a crowd in New York City, proclaiming: "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 of a city or a state."

1910 The Second International Conference of Women

Preceding the general meeting of the Second International, the Second International Conference of Women was held in Copenhagen and attended by about 100 women from 17 countries, who represented unions, socialist parties, and working women's clubs. It also included the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament. German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed that an 'International Woman's Day' be held the following year, which was seconded by her fellow socialist colleague Clara Zetkin. Interestingly, Zetkin was an opponent of feminists but she tried to draw attention to the difficult conditions of women workers. No date was set for the celebration, however.

Second International_Screen Shot zoom in.jpg

1911  Early International Woman's Day in the US and Europe

International Woman's Day was celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19, 1911. More than one million women and men attend IWD rallies worldwide. Austria-Hungary alone was a site of more than 300 demonstrations to end gender discrimination and secure women's rights to work, vote, be trained, and hold public office.

In the United States, the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911 took the lives of more than 140 workers, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrant women. The Commission set up to investigate this fire and more generally the conditions of workers in textile factories, influenced the state's labor legislation. Women's workers were at the center of subsequent IWD celebrations.

1912 Bread and roses!

Continuing the call for better and safer working conditions and higher wages was the Lawrence Textile strike, which was the immediate response to the lowering of workers' wages and largely led by immigrant women workers. The slogan "Bread and Roses" is said to come from this strike, though the term first appeared in a James Oppenheim poem from 1911:

...As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

1914-1916 War-Time Campaigning

During this period, women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women's solidarity. On the eve of World War I, while campainging for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day.

1917 Massive Demonstrations in Russia

On the eve of the Russian Revolution, a massive demonstration took place.  It was a protest against deteriorating living conditions, lack of basic food supplies and the shortage of goods. Mainly women took part in this demonstration, but men also were involved. It was lead by Alexandra Kollontai, a Russian feminist, on the last Sunday in February (March 8 according to the Gregorian calendar).
In commemoration of this demonstration, the Soviet Union has celebrated Woman's Day on February 23 (March 8) since 1922 when Lenin made the celebration official.


Post 1945 Celebration in the Communist World and change to plural

Officially adopted by the Soviet satellites, and by China in 1949, International Women’s Day was celebrated primarily in socialist countries until the mid-1970s.

Sometime in the post-1945 period the name switched from the singular "woman's" day to plural "women's" day.

1975-1977 International Women's Year in 1975 and the first UN International Women's Day

1975 was International Women's Year. That year, the United Nations (UN) began celebrating International Women's Day on March 8. Only two years later, in December 1977 the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a "United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions."

Students at the University of Chicago celebrated their first known International Women's Day in 1978.

2014 IWD is now celebrated more than a 100 countries

IWD is now celebrated in more than a 100 countries and is an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

UChicago is proud to carry on the tradition of celebrating the social, economic, and political achievements of women throughout the world and hope that you can join us for all of the events throughout the week.