Herstory Links Mother's Day
March 12th,2000 speech given by Bernadine Williams for International Women's Day
Event sponsored by the Ad Hoc Committee for IWD

A day of protest and political action on behalf of women.

"BREAD & ROSES", bread represents the struggle for economic equality, and roses to represent the continuing efforts for a better quality of life.

International Women's Day dates back to 1857 USA
143 years ago, in one of the first organized actions by working women anywhere in the world, hundreds of women workers in garment and textile factories in New York City staged a strike protesting against low wages, long working hours, and inhumane working conditions.

From the turn of the century to 1910, women in industrially developing countries were entering paid work in some number. Their jobs were sex segregated, mainly in textiles, manufacturing, and domestic services under horrible conditions and meager pay.

1903 USA, trade unionists and liberal professional women who were also campaigning for women's voting rights set up the Women's Trade Union League to help organize women in paid work in their political and economic welfare. These were dismal and bitter years for many women with terrible working conditions and home lives ridden with poverty and often violence.

Women commemorated the 1857 strike in 1907 by protesting for a 10 hour work day. Then again in 1908, the women demanded the right to vote and end to child labor.

1908, socialist women in the US initiated the first Women's Day when large demonstrations took place calling for the vote and the political and economic rights of women. The next year, 1909, women garment workers staged a general strike. 20-30,000 textile workers struck for 13 cold, winter weeks for better pay and working conditions. The Women's Trade Union League provided bail money for arrested strikers and large sums for strike funds. Later 2,000 people attended a Women's Day rally in Manhattan.

August 1910, the 2nd International Conference of Socialist Women held in Copenhagen with 100 women representing 17 countries (including 3 who would later be elected to the Finnish parliament). Clara Zetkin, a German, proposes one day to focus on a particular day each year to press for their demands. Her proposal was unanimously approved and International Women's Day was officially begun.

The next year March 19, 1911 over 1 million women marched in Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Germany, and China.

Tragically, a week later on March 25, 1911 in NYC, A fire at Triangle Shirtwaste Company killed 149 women textile workers, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrants, who were locked in a workshop. Protests over this tragedy led to reforms in US labor laws.

Though the United Nations had been observing March 8th as International Women's Day since 1985, in 1977, the UN 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. 1995, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said "In the global effort for peace and enduring progress, the promotion and protections of women's rights are central. Success in these tasks means progress for everyone: young and old, men, women, and children." That's important because traditionally promoting women's rights has been seen as taking power away from men.


As recently as the 1970s, women's history was virtually an unknown topic in the K-12 curriculum or general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force of Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women initiated a "Women's History Week" celebration for 1978. (That week coincided with IWD)

In 1979, one of their members was invited to participate in Women's History Institutes at Sarah Lawrence College, which was attended by national leaders of organizations for women and girls. When they learned about what Sonoma County was doing they started celebrations in their own organizations and school districts. Word spread from state departments of education that National Women's History Week was as effective means to achieve equality goals within classrooms. With many resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, and Alaska developed and distributed curriculum materials to all of their public schools.

In 1987, The National Women's History Project petitioned Congress to expand the national celebration to the entire month of March. This first Joint Congression Resolution (sponsored by Orin Hatch and Barbara Mikulski) was approved with bi-partisan support in both House and Senate.

In closing, I'd like you all to take a moment to consider this question: Why is women's history important? I'll answer with a quote from historian Dr. Gerda Lerner (Ph.D., History) "Women's history is the primary tool for women's emancipation." And it is.

1848 - The Married Woman's Property Act was passed. This was a law that allowed women to retain control of any property they owned/inherited before or during their marriage. When the act was passed, religious conservatives, who had long fought against it, stated that "it would destroy the institution of marriage." an argument which continued to be repeated at every step of the women's sufferage movement....

Also in 1848 the practice of using anesthesia during child birth began to be widely practiced. Religious conservatives came out against this as well, telling women and Doctors they had no right tamper w/the decrees of God, which stated that "in sorrow shall you (women) bring forth children."

Herstory Links

Here are links to Women's history sites.
UN: International Women's Day History,
IWD 1999, IWD 2000
IWF Events

International Women's Day Celebration A project of the YWCA-USA.

National Women's History Project

Women of the World
Women of the World is an organization which exists to encourage, support and development the unique leadership skills of women throughout the world, to enable them to contribute to decision-making at all levels of their communities."