March is Women’s History Month! And the selection of March for the commemoration is no co-incidence. On March 8, 1908 amidst a police presence, female garment workers took to the streets of New York City to commemorate the march of their needle-worker forebears on March 8, 1857. Both marches demanded better working conditions, shorter days, and equal rights. The 1908 march also demanded the vote.
The following year, 1909, the Socialist Party was in full-swing advocating the cause of women, and the first National Women’s Day in the U.S. was designated by the Socialist Party of America to remember the march of the prior year. By 1911, as an outgrowth of the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen the year before, International Women’s Day was celebrated on the last Sunday in February for the first time in a number of European countries. In 1913, March 8 became firmly established as the annual celebration of International Women’s Day. Sixty years later, the United Nations would designate 1975 as the International Women’s Year.
Although these events were celebrated in the U.S. with increasing advocacy for equality and the illumination of women’s history, it was not until 1981 that Congress authorized the president to proclaim the week of March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” The year before, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation marking the week of March 8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week. From then until 1987, Congress passed annual resolutions marking the week each year until a petition in 1987 by the National Women’s History Project succeeded in securing Congressional approval for March as National Women’s History Month. All presidents since have issued proclamations for Women’s History Month in March.
This year’s theme for the national celebration — “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government” — is opportunity to share the extraordinary work of North Carolina’s women in the history of the women’s movement and in working to improve the lives of others. Throughout the month, we’ll share biographies, images, historical collections, and books that help tell these stories.