In a year that seems to have been one anniversary after another, yesterday – 28 February – marked the centenary of the first National Women’s Day. Officially, however, the centenary celebrations won’t be held until 2011 because National Women’s Day only became an international event three years later when it was first held on 19 March 1911.
The first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on 28 February 1909 and continued to be celebrated as NWD on the last Sunday of February until 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 1913. In 1913 following discussions, International Women’s Day was transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for International Women’s Day ever since. In 1914 further women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity.
Although there’s still a week to go until March 8, I thought about International Women’s Day today when the sight of the gorse flowering on the hillside reminded me of the softly fragrant sprigs of mimosa blossom traditionally offered to women for “La Festa della Donna” in Italy and other Mediterranean countries. Gorse obviously lacks the romantic quality of mimosa but its feisty yellow colour and waxy honeyed scent are wonderfully cheering and a reminder that spring will soon be on the way, even here in Scotland!
Yellow is traditionally associated with International Women’s Day but I’m not quite sure why – I think it probably started with the Italian tradition of giving mimosa which is thought to date back to the end of the Second World War. There may also be a link to the “Bread and Roses” strike which took place in 1912, the year after the first International Women’s Day was held. James Oppenheim‘s poem celebrating the Lawrence Strike became an anthem for the emancipation of women:
- As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
- Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
- Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
- Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!
- As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
- The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
- No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,
- But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!