International Women’s Day and National Women’s Month came about due to the hard work and dedication of many talented, intelligent, and persevering women in many nations around the world, as this sample essay will discuss.
National Women’s Month
The history of these events is important to an understanding of the great strides in equality women have made since the 1800s. In the early 1900s, industrialization was changing the world, resulting in more population growth, more jobs for women, and more independence for women as well. New ideologies were part of the daily landscape, and industrialization allowed and encouraged women to participate in industry and leave the home for work. But women still bore the brunt of responsibility for home life, and took on jobs with poor working conditions and low wages which often put their health and even lives in danger.
History of National Women’s Month
In 1908, oppression and inequality suffered by women reached a breaking point: 15,000 women marched in New York City to demand better pay, voting rights, and shorter working hours. As a result, the Socialist Party of America declared National Women’s Day on February 28th. Women’s History Month for the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom is March.
In these countries, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th, although it wasn’t always. In Canada, Women’s History Month is celebrated in October. Celebrations and women’s history seminars are held all over the world during Women’s History Month and on International Women’s Day to celebrate the successes of historical and present-day women across the planet.
In 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark. Clara Zetkin proposed International Women’s Day (IWD). Austria, Denmark, and Germany saw over a million IWD attendants for rallies based on women’s rights to vote, work, be trained, and hold public office with a view toward the end of gender-based discrimination. The tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 in New York City killed 145 working Italian and Jewish immigrant women in a fully preventable fire, and drew further attention to inequality and unsafe working conditions for women.
The Triangle Shirtwaist factory
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was located on the top three floors of the Asch Building, and nearly all the employees were teenaged girls who could not speak English and worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Of the four elevators with access to the fourth floor, only one was fully operational, and it was located down a long, narrow corridor. The doors to the two stairways leading out to the street could not be opened from the inside; one had been locked to prevent stealing and the other was only able to open inward. In addition, the fire escape was too narrow and weak to accommodate many workers at a time.
The Triangle Factory had fires in 1907 and in 1910, indicating that the owners (one Max Blanck and one Isaac Harris) burned the business regularly in order to cash in on expensive and well-paying fire insurance policies at the expense of immigrant female workers and their families. Despite previous fires, the factory owners refused to install fire sprinkler systems, pay their workers enough to survive on, and stop imprisoning striking female workers. By today’s standards, employing women in these types of working conditions would be paramount to murder, but in 1911 these deplorable conditions were still tolerated.
In 1978, Sonoma California School District held Women’s History Week, and in 1979 Sarah Lawrence College held a 15 day conference chaired by Gerda Lerner, a historian, author, and teacher who helped found the women’s history field of study. Former president Jimmy Carter was the first president to issue a presidential proclamation for National Women’s History Week in 1980.
1980 noted the accomplishments of women such as
- Susan B. Anthony
- Sojourner Truth
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton
- Alice Paul
Since 1995, all United States presidents have issued these proclamations in order to designate March as Women’s History Month. President Barack Obama’s administration released a report in 2011 entitled Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being which demonstrated female status and how it had changed over time in the United States.
It was the first of its kind since 1963, nearly fifty years earlier. Groups such as A President’s Commission on the Celebration of Women in History in America and The Women’s Progress Commission conduct hearings concerning women’s history all over the nation.
A continuted fight for women’s rights
The fight for women’s rights has been a long, difficult road, and after the Triangle factory fire, 80,000 people attended a women’s rights rally in New York City. Although Blanck and Harris were not charged in the fire, their actions brought about deeper, more sustained change.
Women’s History Month website, the theme this year is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”, and honors the following women.
- Clara Barton (who founded the National Red Cross and the National First Aid Association of America),
- Dorothea Lange (a Great Depression, Dust Bowl, and World War II Japanese internment camps photographer),
- Rosa Parks (noted civil rights activist)
- Radmilla Cody (an award-winning Native American recording artist who sings traditional Diné songs), and
- Amelia Earhart (the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean)
The National Women’s History Project acknowledges the power contained in individual female stories, and its ability to challenge and bring change to the lives of other women, both now and in the future. 2015 is the 35th anniversary of the Women’s History Movement and the National Women’s History Project itself.
This honorees for 2015 included
- Delilah L. Beasley (the first African American newspaper writer in California),
- Gladys Tantaquidgeon (a Mohegan medicine woman, anthropologist and tribal elder who lived for a century),
- Eleanor Flexner (author of Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movement in the United States, a seminal women’s movement book),
- Judy Yung (a writer who documented the life stories of Chinese American women on Angel Island).
The National Women’s History Project is the only clearinghouse which provides training and information for educators concerning multicultural women’s history for anyone.
International Women’s Day is celebrated today as an official holiday in
- Burkina Faso
and will be adopted by other countries in the years to come.
In some countries, the day is a holiday only for women, but in most countries, both men and women celebrate. These holidays are celebrated by men honoring mothers, girlfriends, wives, and co-workers with small gifts or flowers, and in some countries it is celebrated like Mother’s Day with gifts for grandmothers and mothers from their own children and grandchildren.
With the success of the women’s movement, the overall tone of National Women’s Month and International Women’s Day (IWD) has shifted from an indictment of deplorable living and working conditions to a celebration of achievements, although equality between the genders has still not been achieved. Equal pay between men and women has yet to be realized, as many working women can attest to.
Women are still a minority in both political offices and executive business positions in most cases, as well. Countries all over the world still treat women as second-class citizens, and the appalling rate of human trafficking leaves many in the hands of cruel and punishing perpetrators who consistently cause them harm. Thus, the battle is far from won, and the continued celebrations and discussions that International Women’s Day brings about can initiate change for women who still have not seen its consequences or achievements in their day-to-day lives.