Celebrate Women's History Month
Before we had Women’s History Month, there was “International Woman's Day," first proposed by the German socialist and feminist leader Clara Zetkin. It was first celebrated in the United States, on February 23, 1909, when socialist working women made it a holiday. “Their goal, according to their slogan, was to win bread and roses: As labor activists, they wanted to improve the conditions under which women worked; as women, they wanted respect.” (Rosen, p.10)
Soon after, Russian women led protests among starving people on the breadlines and workers in the factories, igniting the February 1917 Revolution. Surprisingly, Lenin, who was nudged by his comrade Zetkin, formally proclaimed International Woman's Day a holiday in 1922. “Eventually, all Communist countries celebrated the day.”
In the United States, people didn’t like the close affiliation to communism, and International Woman's Day lapsed into obscurity for a long time, although it was honored by a handful of activists and labor organizers who continued to fight for women workers.
Even prior to International Woman’s Day, a women’s movement had begun in the U.S. In 1848 the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. took place in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucrectia Mott, and Elizabeth and Mary Ann McClintock organized the meeting, and about 300 people attended.
Using the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a guide, they created the “Declaration of Sentiments.” Saying that all men and women are created equal, they listed 18 grievances, most of which are still relevant even today! These included right to wages, equal custody of children (which had a different meaning at that time), “securing to women an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.” (World History: The Modern Era)
“One editorial called the meeting ‘the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanity.’” The bad press scared some people into taking their names off the Declaration. Despite this, there was another convention two weeks later in Rochester, N.Y. Soon the news and organizing spread, and conferences were held in other states, including Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. (World History: The Modern Era)
Women’s history week was stared in a California school district in 1978, and later Congress passed a resolution designating a national celebration. In 1987 a group of women from the National Women’s History Project campaigned for a Women’s History Month. Congress declared March Women’s History Month that year.
Rosen, R. (March 3, 2000). "Why Women's History Month?" The Chronicle of Higher Education 46.26 : 10. Retrieved from Expanded Academic ASAP. Feb. 16, 2010.
Seneca Falls Convention. World History: The Modern Era. Retrieved from ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. Feb. 16, 2010. http://www.worldhistory.abc-clio.com.
"Why Women’s History Month?" Time for Kids. Retrieved from http://www.timeforkids.com/TFK/specials/whm/0,8805,101046,00.html February 24, 2010.
Information from the National Women’s History Project, National Archives. (2009) About Women’s History Month. Retrieved from http://womenshistorymonth.gov/about.html February 24, 2010.
--by Jeanne Lauber, Librarian