During WWI, in both the United States and the United Kingdom, there was a huge push for women to take over the workforce; due to men serving as soldiers in the war. It was a time in history, and the first time in American history, that women were asked to take part in business and, often, hard labor.
Women’s history month took its tenuous beginning on March 19, 1911 with International Women’s Day. This holiday was dreamed up and organized by a German woman named Klara (Clara) Zetkin who was inspired by American women joining the labor force during WWI (and was also part of a peace effort to end WWI). Zetkin was both a teacher as well as a political and women’s rights activist. As a woman she had a stake in women’s rights. She saw International Women’s day as a moment for society to recognize women worldwide, but also to realize the needs of women at that time:
Delegates from 16 European countries and the U.S. representing trade unions, women’s organizations and socialist parties supported universal women’s suffrage and
women workers’ rights, including the 8-hour day, maternity leave and health insurance. Their unanimous vote instituted an annual International Women’s Day, to be commemorated globally with coordinated actions of solidarity and struggle among women workers. Via
During the 70s, the Women’s Movement gained ground and women’s history took on more significance still. Eventually, National Women’s Day expanded into Women’s History Week:
Women’s History Month in the United States grew out of a weeklong celebration of women’s contributions to culture, history and society organized by the school district of Sonoma, California, in 1978. Presentations were given at dozens of schools, hundreds of students participated in a “Real Woman” essay contest and a parade was held in downtown Santa Rosa. Via
Studying women’s history grew in popularity and in 1987 Congress officially declared March National Women’s History Month. Every year in the month of March the United States and the United Kingdom recognized women’s contributions to history in the month of March. In India Women’s History is celebrated in October.
A key theme of Women’s History month has been education. Today is the first time in American history when women outnumber men in college degrees, and are at equal numbers in the work force:
The equal opportunity to learn, taken for granted by most young women today, owes much to Title IX of the Education Codes of the Higher Education Act Amendments. This legislation, passed in 1972 and enacted in 1977, prohibited gender discrimination by federally funded institutions. It has become the primary tool for women’s fuller participation in all aspects of education from scholarships, to facilities, to classes formerly closed to women. Indeed, it transformed the educational landscape of the United States within the span of a generation. Via
Check out these links for more on Klara Zetkin and Women’s History Month
- Why Women’s History Month
- What About Her Story?
- History: Women’s History Month
- The National Women’s History Project
- Clara Zetkin
- Remembering Clara Zetkin