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The Origins of Women's History Month

Studio portrait of three Wisconsin Ho-Chunk women posing with babies, circa 1910
WHI 5123

Back in 1975 the United Nations declared March 8 as International Women's Day. Since then, millions of people all around the world have recognized women's centuries-long struggle for equality, justice and peace on March 8. International Women's Day is even a national holiday in many countries, including Russia and in the European Union. In the U.S. the day inspired the designation of March as Women's History Month.

Beginnings of Women's History Month

The idea for a women's day first arose at the turn of the 20th century among members of the Socialist Party of America. Socialist women helped to organize the first national Women's Day on February 28, 1909. At the time, the Socialist Party was the only major American political party to endorse women's right to vote. Milwaukee's Meta Berger, wife of the nation's only Socialist congressman, Victor Berger, was active in both the socialist and suffrage movements and endorsed the establishment of a day to celebrate the nation's women.

Two years later, in 1911, Women's Day became an international event. Greeted with the unanimous approval of 100 women from 17 countries at the Socialist International meeting in Denmark, the first global celebration occurred on March 19. The date was changed to March 8 on the eve of World War I, when women held rallies to protest the war.

International Women's Day received official United Nations recognition in 1975, which led to its adoption in many countries that had not previously participated. Women's History Month began as a weeklong celebration to coincide with International Women's Day in 1978. The U.S. Congress expanded the week to a full month in 1987.

Learn About Wisconsin Women

You can discover more about Wisconsin women at our women's history page. Our online collection of Wisconsin Historical Images displays thousands of photographs of Wisconsin women at work and play. Genevieve McBride's book, Women's Wisconsin: From Native Matriarchies to the New Millennium, brings together short essays on the most important women in Wisconsin history.

:: Posted March 8, 2012

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