international womens day - photos and history
David Bacon Fotografias y Historias
Photos by David Bacon

This year International Women's Day has a deep meaning because of the desperate situation in which our country finds itself.  Women in earlier eras confronted problems as great, and founded International Women's Day as a way to fight for deep social change.  Temma Kaplan, distinguished professor of history at Rutgers University, and a longtime teacher, scholar, and activist in pursuit of social justice, wrote a history of the day in 1985, "On the socialist origins of International Women's Day" - Feminist Studies 11, No. 1 (1985), pp. 163-171.  With thanks to her, following these photographs, taken on the University of California Berkeley campus and at Oakland City Hall on International Women's Day, are selections from this important work.

To see the complete selection of photos:

"On the socialist origins of International Women's Day" - Temma Kaplan

The first International Woman's Day (singular) was held on February 23, 1909, in the United States. Like May Day, the history of which it resembles, Woman's Day started as a means by which to unite the popular community around a set of common goals.

The real history of International Woman's Day cannot be separated from the politicallife of Clara Zetkin.  As the editor between 1890 and 1915 of the German Social Democratic party's women's newspaper Gleichheit, she promoted the interests of working-class women.  After the war she became a Communist and brought International Woman's Day with her into the Third International in 1922. From this time on, International Women's Day (it seems to have become plural after 1945) became a Communist holiday. Since the late sixties, feminists have revitalized the celebration and have infused it with new meaning.
Branch Number 3 of the New York City Social Democratie Women's Society held a mass meeting on woman suffrage on March 8, 1908 ... The New York rally ... on February 27, 1910, opened with a Carnegie Hall meeting. The audience sang the Marseillaise before Rose Schneiderman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Metta 1. Stem explained how the German socialist women had led the way at Stuttgart in 1907 by calling for women's economie equality and then for the vote.

On March 18, 1911, on the fortieth anniversary of the Paris Commune, the first International Woman's Day was held in Europe to publicize the need for women's rights and the suffrage.

In New York, the meeting for International Woman's Day in 1911 was held on February 25 on a Saturday night at Carnegie Hall. The keynote speech by Bertha Fraser praised women's inability to fight as a positive quality for citizenship. "Another argument against women is that they cannot be soldiers. And what is more, when they get the ballot, they will use it to make war impossible." 1915 Socialist Marian Craig Wentworth wrote a play in which the women went on strike against childbirth until they were admitted to the councils of war.

[After World War One began] the socialist women of Berne carried back a manifesto they distributed clandestinely in their countries. It was addressed 'To the women of the proletariat," and asked, "Where are your husbands? Where are your sons?" It declared that the workers have nothing to gain from the war. They have everything to lose, everything, everything that is dear to them." It exhorted women to take action to win peace.

In ltaly, the price of fIour had risen 88 percent, wine 144 percent, and potatoes 131 percent over 1910 prices by January 1917.  On International Woman's Day, February 23,1917, female socialists in Turin, Italy, hung posters addressed to women throughout the working-class neighborhoods. The posters said, "Hasn't there been enough torment from this war? Now the food necessary for our children has begun to disappear. It is time for us to act in the name of suffering humanity. Our cry is 'Down with arms!' We are part of the same family. We want peace. We must show that women can protect those who depend on them."

The most dramatic celebration of International Woman's Day was in 1917 in Russia. Led by feminist Alexandra Kollontai, Russian women had begun celebrating the day American-style, marching the last Sunday in February in 1913. Central to their protest in 1917 were complaints over deteriorating living conditions. Rents had more than doubled in St. Petersburg, renamed Petrograd, between 1905 and 1915. Food prices, particularly the cost of fIour and bread, rose between 80 and 120 percent in most European cities. The price per pound of rye bread, the staple of working-class diets in Petrograd, rose from three kopeks in 1913 to eighteen kopeks in 1916. Even soap rose 245 percent in 1917 Petrograd.

Merchants speculated in grain, fuel, and meat, while factories closed for lack of energy to run the plants. Female and male wage earners who faced layoffs often went on strike. Between January and February 1917, more than half a million Russian workers, mostly in Petrograd, went out.

Taking the occasion of International Woman's Day (March 8th in the West, but February 23rd on the Gregorian calendar), women led a demonstration from the factories and the breadlines. Metallurgical workers, mostly men, joined them despite the fact that the Bolsheviks regarded the women's mobilization as precipitous.

On February 25, two days after the women's insurrection had begun on International Woman's Day, the czar ordered General Khabalov of the Petrograd Military District to shoot if necessary in order to crush the women's revolution. Khabalov summarized the problems authorities feel when confronted with women's consumer demands. He explained that when they said, "Give us bread!" we could give them bread and that was the end of it. But when they said, "Down with the autocracy!" we could no longer appease them with bread.

Thus began the February revolution in Russia. By March 12 (Gregorian February 27), Czar Nicholas II had been forced to abdicate.

With Clara Zetkin's help, Lenin established International Women's Day as a Communist holiday in 1922, when the Chinese Cornmunists started to celebrate it. In Spain, fol1owing the victory of the Popular Front slate in the February 1936 elections, La Pasionaria, one of the leaders of the Spanish Communist party, led thousands of women to demonstrate in Madrid on International Woman's Day, March 8, to demand protection of the republic against the growing fascist threat.

After the Second World War, International Woman's Day remained a communist holiday until around 1967. According to one story, it was revived in the United States by a women's group at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle, which included daughters of American Communists who remembered having heard of the holiday. Since then, it has become the occasion for a new sense of female consciousness and a new sense of feminist internationalism.

More recent history:

On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women's Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR "in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women."  The United Nations began celebrating International Women's Day in the International Women's Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women's rights and world peace.
Events took place in more than 100 countries on March 8, 2011 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.  American singer Beyoncé posted an International Women's Day video to her YouTube account. Throughout the video, her song "Flawless" plays, which includes a portion of the "We Should All Be Feminists" speech given by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  The theme for International Women's Day 2017 is "Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030".

The day is an official holiday in dozens of countries, from Afghanistan to Vietnam and Zambia.  In some countries, men give the women in their lives flowers and small gifts.  In Portugal and Italy groups of women usually celebrate on the night of March 8 in "women-only" dinners and parties.

In February 1994, Rep. Maxine Waters introduced HJR 316 to officially recognize March 8 as International Women's Day in the US.  Although her bill had 79 cosponsors, it was never voted out of committee.  This year, after the call for a Day Without a Woman (originally made in Poland last October). Womens Day demonstrations spread across the country.   Democratic representatives walked out of Congress in solidarity with the thousand women rallying outside.

In her introduction to Temma Kaplan's essay, editor Claire G. Moses asks:  "When we need to understand better the effectiveness of organized resistance, is it not fitting that we draw inspiration not only from spontaneous demonstrators, but also from women who engaged in long-term struggle and who created rituals that sustained their struggle in the face of unrelenting opposition?"


Photographs of the marches against Trump's anti-immigrant orders and detention center vigils:


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THE REALITY CHECK - David Bacon blog

EN LOS CAMPOS DEL NORTE:  Farm worker photographs on the U.S./Mexico border wall
Youtube interview about the show with Alfonso Caraveo (Spanish)

Interviews with David Bacon about his book, The Right to Stay Home:

Book TV: A presentation of the ideas in The Right to Stay Home at the CUNY Graduate Center

KPFA - Upfront with Brian Edwards Tiekert

Books by David Bacon

The Right to Stay Home:  How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration  (Beacon Press, 2013)

Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants  (Beacon Press, 2008)
Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008

Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)

The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)

En Español:  

EL DERECHO A QUEDARSE EN CASA  (Critica - Planeta de Libros)


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