The earliest Women’s Day commemoration took place on February 28, 1909, in New York City. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America, which was a rising force in U.S. politics, and was intended to honor a strike the year before by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, one of the largest labor movements in the country and one of the first with primarily female membership.
In 1910, an International Women’s Conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark with 100 women from 17 countries in attendance. They discussed various social and political issues affecting women and society as a whole — from suffrage to public education — and agreed on holding more rallies and demonstrations across the world to bring attention to women’s universal rights.
The following year, on March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held, involving over a million people across Europe. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of the most patriarchal and authoritarian countries at the time, saw 300 such rallies alone. Among other issues, women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office and for the end to sex discrimination in the workplace.
The breakout moment for IWD was March 8, 1917 in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). Women textile workers spontaneously managed to take over the whole city in demand for “Bread and Peace” – an end to the First World War (which Russia was badly losing), an end to food shortages, and an end to czarism. Seven days later, Emperor of Russia Nicholas II abdicated and the provisional government that followed granted women the right to vote.
IWD was predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations, where it has since taken on a broader political and social context.