The anti-establishment origins of International Women’s Day

The Daily Edition
The Medium Blog
Published in
3 min readMar 8, 2024

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♀️ Happy International Women’s Day! Only 130 more years to go before we close the gender pay gap.

Growing up, I knew March was Women’s History Month, but wasn’t really aware of International Women’s Day until well into my twenties. Even then I felt it had the sheen of a vanity holiday, with its corporate sponsorships (Hershey’s SHE bar, anyone?) and glossy marketing.

In reality, International Women’s Day is a holiday with an often-overlooked revolutionary history. While March 8 first became a notable date after a massive 1908 women’s protest for shorter working hours and better pay in New York City, it wasn’t until a few years later that the idea of an official “women worker’s day” really picked up steam. The holiday saw pacifist protests during World War I and even lit the match that would ignite the Russian Revolution, after women who worked in textile factories went on strike to demand food, peace, and safer working conditions in 1917. It was mostly celebrated by counterculture activists for decades (see this archive of pamphlets and bulletins about IWD from the ’70s and ’80s) before going mainstream when the United Nations recognized it in 1977, setting it on its way to becoming the more commercially palatable version it is today.

A recent story on Medium touches on the lost history of International Women’s Day by exploring the life of ​​Pauline Newman. Newman was a working-class Jewish woman and member of the Socialist Party. She fought for immigrant and women worker’s rights around the turn of the 20th century and may have organized the first marches that inspired IWD itself.

Newman’s name — like many Jewish, Black, or impoverished women — is often missing from the holiday’s history, as well as women’s history in general. As the piece argues, sharing stories like Newman’s is one way to recenter the overlooked voices and perspectives that fueled IWD, in order “not to leave the forgotten ones behind because of who they are — their race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, etc.

If you encounter a story about women’s history that should not remain forgotten, please let us know so we can add it to our staff picks list for Women’s History Month.

— Carly @ Medium

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