Bread and Roses
Little girls in the 1950s asked each other, “Do you want a family or a career?” Having both is now common, which isn't to say they never conflict. Mother’s Day celebrates (some) women’s role in the private sphere on the second Sunday in May. With far less fanfare, we celebrate their public “social, economic, cultural, and political achievements” on March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD).
On March 8, 1857, New York City police broke up a demonstration by women textile workers seeking better pay, hours, and working conditions. Half a century later, on March 8, 1908, thousands of women marched through NYC demanding work reforms plus the right to vote. The next year the Socialist Party of America began an annual National Woman’s Day. “Bread and Roses” dates from 1910-12.
Meanwhile women across Europe organized International Women’s Day to rally for suffrage and against the looming war. On March 8, 1917, women in Russia went on strike to demand “bread and peace.” Czar Nicholas II abdicated one week later. After the violence of the Russian Revolution, Americans lost sympathy for anything associated with socialism. IWD, widely observed in Russia and elsewhere, largely fell from view in the U.S.
We give more attention to the relatively recent Women’s History Month. Its overlap with IWD was almost an afterthought. To commemorate ratification of the 19th Amendment suggested August, but late summer was too hot for large demonstrations. Parading in March sounded more attractive.
3/6/2023 07:39:37 am
Fascinating look at history to see how we got here. Thanks.
3/6/2023 08:55:43 am
Thanks, Dennis. Now I see why I never heard of International Women's Day growing up, but to my Hungarian daughter-in-law and granddaughter it is an important holiday.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.