Q: Where did International Women’s Day come from?

A: International Women’s Day, recognized by the United Nations, was celebrated around the world Friday and has a history dating back more than a century.

The first National Women’s Day was held in the United States on Feb. 28, 1909, about one year after the garment workers strike in New York City, according to the United Nations. It was designated by the Socialist Party of America.

The following year, the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen established a Women’s Day — although no fixed date was set, according to the UN. More than 100 women from 17 countries unanimously approved the observance in support of women’s rights and universal rights to vote.

On March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day brought out more than 1 million women and men in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to rally for women’s rights.

Through World War I, Women’s Day demonstrations also protested the war, according to the UN. The protests were held in Europe on March 8, and in Russia on the last Sunday in February.

In 1917, on the last Sunday in February on the Russian calendar, which was March 8 on our Gregorian calendar, Russian women led a protest and strike for “Bread and Peace,” which effectively began the Russian Revolution. The last czar of Russia would abdicate four days later.

Every March 8 since 1975 — which the United Nations dubbed International Women’s Year — has been observed by the UN as International Women’s Day.

On Friday, marches and protests took place around the world — in countries including Argentina, Ukraine, Kenya and Indonesia — with millions of women and men attending. They gathered under the slogan #BalanceforBetter, calling for a more gender-balanced world.

Protesters demanded equality as disparities in salaries, health care and safety continue to persist around the world.

— Shelley K. Mesch

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

Subscribe to our Politics email!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Send questions to: justaskus@madison.com; Just Ask Us, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708.


Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.