The 100 year anniversary of International Women’s Day is Tuesday, March 8 and happens to fall on the date of March’s Second Tuesday! Having our monthly meeting of ‘like-minded women getting together to network, learn, and share with and support each other’ fall on this same day could not have worked out better. When I realized this coincidence, I decided to take a deeper look into what women have achieved over the past 100+ years.
While, ‘technically,’ we know that women have come a long way, as I read through our gender’s achievements, I found myself both astonished and impressed. Below are a few highlights found on the IWD website and and a timeline on the Women’s Rights Movement. Certainly, there are many more milestones than the ones listed below, but these will give you a good idea on the progress women have made in society.
- 1848: The first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. After 2 days of discussion and debate, 68 women and 32 men sign a Declaration of Sentiments, which outlines grievances and sets the agenda for the women’s rights movement.
- 1869: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton form the National Woman Suffrage Association. The primary goal of the organization is to achieve voting rights for women by means of a Congressional amendment to the Constitution.
- 1870: 1870 US Census was the first to count “females engaged in each and every occupation” and revealed that 15% of the work force was comprised of women.
- 1908: 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
- 1911: Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events.
- 1913: On the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.
- 1916: Margaret Sanger opens the first U.S. birth-control clinic in Brooklyn, N.Y. Although the clinic is shut down 10 days later and Sanger is arrested, she eventually wins support through the courts and opens another clinic in New York City in 1923.
- 1919: The federal woman suffrage amendment, originally written by Susan B. Anthony and introduced in Congress in 1878, is passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is then sent to the states for ratification.
- 1936: The federal law prohibiting the dissemination of contraceptive information through the mail is modified and birth control information is no longer classified as obscene. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, birth control advocates are engaged in numerous legal suits.
- 1960: The Food and Drug Administration approves birth control pills.
- 1963: Betty Friedan publishes her highly influential book The Feminine Mystique, which describes the dissatisfaction felt by middle-class American housewives with the narrow role imposed on them by society. The book becomes a best-seller and galvanizes the modern women’s rights movement.
- 1968: The EEOC rules that sex-segregated help wanted ads in newspapers are illegal. This ruling is upheld in 1973 by the Supreme Court, opening the way for women to apply for higher-paying jobs hitherto open only to men.
- 1972: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Originally drafted by Alice Paul in 1923, the amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The amendment died in 1982 when it failed to achieve ratification by a minimum of 38 states.
- 1976: The first marital rape law is enacted in Nebraska, making it illegal for a husband to rape his wife.
- 1996: In United States v. Virginia, the Supreme Court rules that the all-male Virginia Military School has to admit women in order to continue to receive public funding. It holds that creating a separate, all-female school will not suffice.
- 2000+: IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.
- 2009: President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which allows victims of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck. Previously, victims (most often women) were only allowed 180 days from the date of the first unfair paycheck.
- 2011: Hillary Clinton on the cover of Newsweek reminding us that there is much more to be done around the world regarding the rights of women and girls.
I wonder what this timeline will look like 50 or 100 years from now.