Google celebrates International Women’s Day with a doodle of women from around the world. Many will honor advancements for women’s rights Friday, but how familiar are people with its history?
After more than 100 years, International Women’s Day draws millions to commemorate the advancements made in human rights and to discuss the challenges women continue to face in politics, education, employment, and other areas of daily life.
However, International Women’s Day originally commemorated the working rights protests led by female garment workers. Many seem to forget the holiday’s ties to the working rights movement in the United States and the Socialist Party.
The origins of the holiday can be traced back to March 8, 1857, when garment workers in New York City staged a protest against inhumane working conditions and low wages, according to the United Nations. The police attacked the protesters and dispersed them, but the movement continued and led to the creation of the first women’s labor union.
Fast forward to March 8, 1908: 15,000 women marched in New York City for shorter work hours, better pay, voting rights, and an end to child labor. The slogan “Bread and Roses” emerged, with bread symbolizing economic security and roses for better living standards.
Many of those who protested for working rights were young immigrants from Europe, who came to the US seeking better opportunities, says Carol Rosenblatt of the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
“Workers in this country also died in their efforts to advance workers’ rights, but they weren’t fearful in the same way that they were in some of the countries that they came from,” says Ms. Rosenblatt, executive director of the coalition. “They had a much different expectation than when they got here. They were exploited.”
That May 1908, the Socialist Party of America declared that the last Sunday in February would be National Women’s Day. The first National Women’s Day was celebrated on Feb. 28, 1909, in the US.
International Women’s Day (then International Working Women’s Day) was introduced during the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark. Clara Zetkin, a German socialist, suggested a holiday honoring the strike of garment workers in the US. The proposal received unanimous approval from the 100 women from 17 countries.