International Women's Day

A History of International Women's Day

Marchers in London celebrate International Women's Day, 1973
Marchers in London celebrate International Women's Day, 1973. Getty Images / Hulton Archive / Michael Webb

International Women's Day was first celebrated on March 19 (not the later March 8), 1911. A million women and men rallied in support of women's rights on that first International Women's Day.

The idea of an International Women's Day was inspired by America's National Women's Day, February 28, 1909, declared by the Socialist Party of America.

The next year, the Socialist International met in Denmark and delegates approved the idea of an International Women's Day.

And so the next year, the first International Women's Day -- or as it was first called, International Working Women's Day -- was celebrated with those rallies in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

Not even a week after the first International Women's Day, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire killed 146, mostly young immigrant women, in New York City. That incident inspired many changes in industrial working conditions, and the memory of those who died has been often invoked as part of International Women's Days from that point on.

Beyond That First International Women's Day

The first Russian observance of International Women's Day was in February 1913.

In 1914, with World War I erupting, March 8 was a day of rallies of women against war, or women expressing international solidarity at that time of war.

In 1917, on February 23 -- March 8 on the Western calendar -- Russian women organized a strike, a key beginning of events resulting in the czar being toppled.

The holiday was especially popular for many years in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Gradually, it became more of a truly international celebration.

The United Nations celebrated International Women's Year in 1975, and in 1977, the United Nations officially got behind the annual honoring of women's rights known as International Women's Day, a day "to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women's rights.(1)"

In 2011, the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day resulted in many celebrations around the world, and more than usual attention to International Women's Day.

In 2017 in the United States, many women celebrated International Women's Day by taking the day off, as a "Day Without Women." Entire school systems closed (women are still about 75% of public school teachers) in some cities. Those who were unable to take the day off wore red to honor the spirit of the "day off" concept.

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Citation: (1) "International Women's Day," Department of Public Information, United Nations.