On March 8th 1857, garment workers marched for better working conditions, and were dispersed by police force. On March 8th 1908, approximately 15,000 women marched for better wages and shorter work hours, the end of child labor, and the right to vote. Both of these marches occurred in New York.
The slogan of these and similar marches became “Bread and Roses”- bread signifying a more secure economy, roses signifying better living conditions.
In May, 1908, the American Socialist Party declared the last Sunday in February would be National Women’s Day; catching the attention of many Eastern European movements. By 1911, women and men in Europe were also celebrating women and worker rights in early Spring, as a nod to the original marches in America. In March, 1911, IWD was celebrated in Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland.
In America, after the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire (March 25th, 1911), in which 146 New York women were killed, over 100,000 people marched in protest of dangerous working conditions.
This tragedy and the public response lead to the Factory Inspections Commission, as well as many labor laws; some argue it paved the way for FDR’s New Deal.
America did not officially celebrate International Women’s Day until the late 70s, after March 8th was proposed as the set date by the U.N.
International Women’s Day was born out of worker, women, immigrant, and children’s rights marches throughout the world. Women and men rallied against profit driven, dangerous, and unfair working conditions. These issues are not resolved, in this country or many others. Our daily lives are permeated with goods grown, constructed, packaged, and shipped by workers who are still struggling. We should not forget the purpose of a day like today.
Rock on, lovely ladies and gentlemen.