In 1909 the first National Women’s Day was announced and observed by the Socialist Party of America on February 28th . From then on the day was celebrated on the last Sunday in February each year up until 1913.
In 1910 an International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen where Clara Zetkin, who was the leader of the Women’s Office for the German Social Democratic Party, presented her idea to introduce International Women’s Day. Zetkin proposed that each year, each country set aside a day when women are given the right to voice their demands and fight for them.
In 1911 the first Women’s Day took place on March 19 in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. More than one million women attended rallies campaigning for working rights, the right to vote, be trained and hold public office. Sadly, less than one week later on March 25th, in New York City there was a devastating fire. The fire was dubbed the “Triangle Fire” and on that day it claimed the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them being Italian and Jewish immigrants. The fire resulted in drastic reconsideration of working conditions and labor legislation in the U.S. and became the focus of Women’s Day events for the following years.
On the eve of the first world war, Russian women celebrated their first Women’s Day, campaigning for peace against war and expression of women’s solidarity. In 1917 on the last Sunday in February Russian women began their protest known as the “strike for bread and peace” as a response to the over two million Russian soldiers that had died in the war. The strike lasted four days until the Czar was forced out and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. This particular strike began on February 23rd on the Julian calendar (in use at the time in Russia) but on the Gregorian calendar used elsewhere the date was the 8th of March. From that day on, March 8th marked the celebration of International Women’s Day.
Since it was first introduced during the socialist movement, International Women’s Day has grown to become a holiday of global recognition and celebration across the globe. For years the United Nations held an annual conference to coordinate international efforts for women’s rights and participation in political, social and economic events. Today International Women’s Day is observed in a wealth of countries and sees men honoring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues and any other women in their lives with flowers and small gifts. Often events are even organized within large companies and communities to honor the special day.
Specifically in Italy, the holiday is a way for the Italians to celebrate their families and the women who have dedicated their lives to raising and caring for them. Italy has had a slower movement away from tradition than many other countries are used to and today there is still an unspoken inequality between men and women and it seems fitting that they have set aside one day that is completely characterized by the selling and giving of the yellow mimosa flower. Today tradition is falling even more by the wayside as more and more Italian women are taking roles outside the home and taking leadership roles in the office and there is concern among the community that Festa delle Donne may be lost in the years to come.
Surprisingly, the United States has opted out of this celebration so take advantage of your women’s rights next week and enjoy your mimosa flowers; you may as well throw in the champagne mimosa while you’re at it!