Today is International Women’s Day, a century-old international observance of women’s cultural, economic, and social achievements. Here are five facts you should know both about this global celebration:
1. The original observance, held in the United States on February 23, 1909, was created by American socialist groups and dubbed National Woman’s Day (singular). As scholar Temma Kaplan explains, the event was originally an attempt by socialists and anarchists to establish a secular communal tradition. The observance was picked up in Europe in 1911 and redubbed International Woman’s Day (also singular). The event drew socialists into the cause of women’s suffrage—a cause they had previously rejected as being a “conservative” issue.
2. The most historically significant celebration of International Woman’s Day occurred in Russia in 1917. When Russian women marched in protest to the working and living conditions in the country, the nation’s leader, Czar Nicholas II, ordered the military to quash the demonstrations—and to shoot the women if they refused to comply. This event was part of the Russian Revolution that forced the czar to abdicate. In honor of the contribution of women to the revolution, Vladimir Lenin, founder of Russia’s Communist Party, declared Woman’s Day an official Soviet holiday in 1911. Until the mid-1970s, International Women’s Day has be celebrated primarily in socialist and communist-controlled countries.
3. In the 1950s an apocryphal story surfaced in French Communist circles that the first woman’s day event was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of a spontaneous demonstration in 1857 by female textile workers in New York City. Ironically, some groups latched on to this narrative to distance the day from the event’s socialist roots. But the story has no basis in fact, and there is no evidence the 1857 demonstration ever occurred.
4. In 1975, during International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day (plural) on March 8. Since then, that day has been considered the official date of observance throughout most of the world.
5. International Women’s Day is an official holiday in: Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia. In China, Macedonia, Madagascar, and Nepal it’s a holiday for women only. In some countries, the celebration is equivalent to Mother’s Day and other gift-giving holidays.