On Friday, many countries worldwide are commemorating International Women’s Day. Meanwhile, in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, all of March will be marked by demonstrations, celebrations and education programs.
Women’s History Month is the spiritual daughter of International Women’s Day, which first came about thanks to the work of labor and revolutionary groups. The Socialist Party of America first organized a National Women’s Day in the U.S. on Feb. 28, 1909. The following year, during an International Socialist Women’s Conference, delegates from 17 countries voted to designate March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day, and use it to promote equal rights.
In the years that followed, several other countries observed the holiday on March 8, including England, where a march demanding women’s suffrage was held between Bow and Trafalgar Square in London in 1914. And on March 8, 1917, women in Petrograd, now St. Petersburg, turned their annual demonstration into a mass strike, helping to spark the Russian Revolution and shape the 20th century.
Women’s History Month in the U.S. came about after years of lobbying by educators and activists, beginning with a Sonoma, Calif., school district’s Women’s History Week, held from 1978 to 1987. Congress then passed a resolution dedicating March 1987 to women’s history. Presidents since have proclaimed Women’s History Month anew each year.
This year, with a record 102 women serving in Congress and challenging existing orthodoxies, advocating for change and generating headlines with simple tweets, the commemoration of Women’s Day and Women’s History Month remains nearly as charged as it was 100 years ago, and we would all do well to pay attention.
Women running for office, and women throughout society, have refocused a diverse spectrum of feminist philosophies into concrete issues. Gone are the days when simple slogans like “Girl power!” sufficed as action. Women are leading the way on workers’ rights, reproductive rights and solutions to global climate change. They also comprise a significant number of the voices speaking out against President Trump’s policies and nativist rhetoric.
The women of the Herald’s editorial department found different resonances in Women’s History Month this year, based on their personal histories and ideals. Laura Lane, senior editor of the Herald’s North Shore papers, said she recalled the moment at which the women’s equality movement “exploded,” when she was in primary school, and saw a through-line from being forced to wear a dress to school to her professional life now.
“Today, as a senior editor of three weekly newspapers and the only woman to have achieved the title at my company, I remain committed to doing the job to the best of my abilities,” Lane said. “But I don’t see myself as a successful woman. Instead, I see myself as a successful person.”
Alexandra Dieckmann, reporter for the Wantagh and Seaford Heralds, said she celebrates the spirit of strong women worldwide when March comes around, and thinks about her greatest role model.
“My mom comes to mind when I think of strong women,” Dieckmann said. “She works part-time, attends an intensive institute class just because she wants to, completes all the responsibilities of a stay-at-home wife and mother, and makes sure my sister gets to her volleyball and choir practices. She’s amazing, and I aspire to be more like her.”
Freeport Herald Editor Nadya Nataly said that women’s voices are becoming “louder, stronger and — most important — heard.”
“It’s exciting to be a woman in 2019,” Nataly added. “More of us are stepping up and being the change we want to see in our world by taking action and doing the necessary work for equality and inclusion.”
The Herald encourages all — even those who see themselves more on the sidelines — to look back at the progress that has been made since 1909, and to look around at the changes our society still aches for. The women’s-equality movement is part of a long-overdue, still-developing moral clarity in America that surely will have its share of messy moments and fiery debates — which may frighten or alienate some Americans. This is, however, the process by which democratic societies grow and new voices are heard. You stand to lose little by engaging in good faith, and we all stand to learn so much.