BIO Classroom

BIO Classroom

The History of Women's History Month

Before March became Women's History Month, it was a single day, March 8th. In 1975, The United Nations began sponsoring International Women's Day to honor women around the world, particularly working women.

The tradition goes back to the early years of the 20th century. In March 1909, women devoted to both the cause of labor and the cause of women led an uprising of thousands of garment industry workers in New York City. This alliance of militant working women and women's rights advocates inspired a German Socialist named Clara Zetkin and a Russian feminist representing textile workers named Alexandra Kollontai to declare an International Women's Day in 1911. In 1917, another uprising led by women, this one in the Russian city of St. Petersburg forced the Czar to abdicate. So March 8th became a holiday to honor not only women's labor, but women's role in the Revolution.

Over the years and around the world, March 8th took on different meanings. In some years, it was an occasion for organizing against militarism and war. In the late 1950s, it was often the date of female-led anti-nuclear protests. At the same time, March 8th was a rallying point for the demands of workers. By the late 1960s, as women's liberation was spreading in the United States, many women, including activists and historians, discovered, re-discovered or decided to honor the revolutionary women who had originated the holiday. They clamored for an American revival of celebrating International Women's Day.

By the 1970s, March 8th was on the national calendar, although often the working class, socialist, grass-roots underpinnings of the holiday fell away and the focus in the United States largely became the achievements of individual women. International Women's Day became broader in scope and official in nature. In 1981, the new National Women's History Project in Northern California, among other groups, successfully lobbied Congress to declare a national Women's History Week in the days around March 8th. By 1987, by presidential decree, the week became a month.