Before the United Nations recognized March 8th as International Women’s Day in 1975, before the United States and other English-speaking countries declared March to be Women’s History Month, women had already been making their political presence and need for peace felt.
It originally began as rallies, marches, and protests taking place at the beginning of the 20th century, headed by women and sympathetic men throughout America, Europe and Russia. They fought to create fair laws concerning wages, better living conditions, and the right to vote because, despite being an economic presence in the workforce, women were still not electorally represented.
In 1910, during the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. Clara Zetkin, leader of the German Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party, proposed the idea of holding an international Women’s Day in every country, so that women could present their demands. Following this decision, the first International Women’s Day was honored for the first time in several European countries the following year. More than a million people attended these rallies, demanding the right for women to vote, to work, be trained, to hold public office, and to end discrimination.
In a parallel timeline, women and men had been growing restless in the United States after a series of strikes and tragic events, the most dramatic being the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York, where 140 people died, of which 123 were women and young girls. Precarious working conditions and unfair wages had propelled women to join in protest, demanding equality, dignified living standards, and the possibility to attain the higher things in life.
Understanding the need for women to be come together as the grounding force for change and peace, Helen Todd, a factory inspector, activist and suffragette, toured with other women around the country educating and speaking on the right to vote. It was in one of her speeches that she came up with the phrase “Bread for all, and roses, too” which became a political slogan long into the 20th century:
…woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life’s Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice. –Helen Todd
She became involved with other successful strikes throughout the country and helped lead the suffrage movement in California, which gave women the right to vote in 1911.
In another part of the world, the Russian Empire to be precise, in 1917, women began a strike on the last Sunday in February protesting against the war (WWI) which had claimed the life of two million soldiers. The female protest “for bread and peace,” as it was called, was so tenacious that, in spite of fierce political opposition, four days later the Tzar was forced to abdicate. The provisional government granted women the right to vote in that same year.
Although this is a very brief highlight of the role women have played as agents of change and betterment of their loved one’s lives, this upcoming Women’s Day remember to celebrate and honor the female presence in your life, and may everybody have enough Bread… and Roses too!