International Women’s Day: Strike for Change

Happy International Women’s Day! In celebration of this holiday we will be exploring the holiday’s evolving history and how its creation intertwines with the labor movement. The purpose of International Women’s Day is to bring attention to the social, political, and economic issues that women face. It is also used as a day to recognize women who have made achievements toward creating solutions for these many issues. The spirit of this holiday, which has been carried on since the early 1900s, has been to use demonstrations as a way to showcase the value of women to society. This holiday was started by women striking for basic workers’ rights.


Newspaper article from the UIU Journal, 1978. Artificial Collections, Vertical Files, 1881-1999.

The idea of International Women’s Day was taken from the “National Women’s Day” strike, which was organized in the United States on February 28, 1909 by the Socialist Party of America for basic workers’ rights for women and the right to vote.[1] Historians argue that women marched that day to honor garment workers who held a strike in New York in 1908 for better pay and working conditions. Regardless of the reason, the idea to strike on this day for basic workers’ rights spread. In the following year rallies were organized by Socialist International groups in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria demanding women’s right to vote, hold public office, and the right to work. These celebrations were called “International Working Women’s Day.” In 1917 women in Russia organized on this holiday to protest and strike for “Bread and Peace”, four days later the government granted women the right to vote. Until the 1970s, the holiday was mainly celebrated in socialist countries, but in 1975 the United Nations celebrated “International Women’s Year” and declared March 8th to be “International Women’s Day.” Today, the holiday is celebrated in over 100 different counties.


Leonora O’Reilly made a speech at the “National Women’s Day” rally on February 28, 1902. During this speech, she explained the importance of equal rights and demanded a women’s right to vote. AFL-CIO Posters, Broadsides, and Art, 1892, 1900-.

As the years have gone on, the tradition of the holiday has shied away from its political roots and has become more commercialized. With the political climate in the United States today, women are returning to the original tradition of the holiday to make their voices heard. In 2017, the organizers of the Women’s March planned a demonstration to show what it would be like if women were not in the work force. Women all over the country stopped working for a day and those who were unable to walk out wore red in solidarity. Moving back to the roots of this holiday to showcase the need for change is what will allow women to gain better worker and human rights for all.

What are you doing for International Women’s Day this year?


International Women’s Day poster from March 8, 1990 created by the Women’s Bureau, Canadian Labor Congress. AFL-CIO Posters, Broadsides, and Art, 1892, 1900-.

If you would like more information about the Labor History Collections, you can visit our Labor History Research Guide or email

This post is one of a series for Women’s History Month, so be on the lookout for other posts about the powerful women of the labor movement!

Erin Berry is a Graduate Assistant for the Labor History Collection at University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. She is pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation and expects to graduate in 2018.

[1]. (2018). International Women’s Day 2017, History. UN Women Watch. Retrieved from

One thought on “International Women’s Day: Strike for Change

  1. Pingback: Remembering the Strong Women of the Labor Movement | Special Collections and University Archives – University of Maryland

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