Women’s History Month began in New York in 1909 to honor the city’s garment workers’ strike

March 8, 2023

(1917) Picketing in all sorts of weather. N.Y. Day Picket. United States Washington D.C. New York, 1917, [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

International Women’s Day, and what later became Women’s History Month, originated in New York City over 100 years ago. On February 28, 1909, “Women’s Day,” was celebrated as the one-year anniversary of the city’s garment industry strike led by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. The Socialist Party of America chose the day to honor the women who bravely protested miserable labor conditions. American socialist and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman addressed a New York crowd, saying: “It is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood but home should mean the whole country and not be confined to three or four rooms of a city or a state.” At the time, women still couldn’t vote.

Image: The Kheel Center via Flickr.

By 1911, the tradition had caught on throughout Europe, becoming an “International Women’s Day” during March, set aside to reflect on the origins of one-half the population’s early foray into demanding well-earned recognition and equal treatment.

It would still be a few years before women were granted the right to vote in national elections throughout the world. New Zealand became the first self-governing nation to allow women the right to vote in 1893. Denmark gave the nod to women’s suffrage in 1915 with Canada, Russia, Germany, and Poland soon to follow, and propertied British women over 30 given the vote in 1918. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving American women the vote didn’t occur until 1920.

‘The Garment Worker’ (1984) by Judith Weller, outside 555 Seventh Avenue in the Garment District, is intended to be a reminder of the role of the ILGWU’s members in making New York one of the fashion centers of the world. Note: It’s a man.  Photo by slgckgc on Flickr

International Women’s Day was officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, but it was not until 1987 that Congress voted to expand the observance in the U.S. to the entire month of March. But America still lags behind much of the world in ways worth noting during any observance of women’s ongoing struggle for recognition and respect; for example, we’ve never had a woman serve as head of state.

Via Wiki Commons

The 2023 theme for International Women’s Day is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” highlighting both the gender gap in digital access and the potential technology has to “open new doors for the empowerment of women, girls, and other marginalized groups,” according to UN Women.



Editor’s note 3/8/23: The original version of this post was published on March 1, 2017, and has since been updated. 

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