March 8th in most of the world is International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate women all of the world. When did it start celebrating women? Was there something similar in the past? What is the history behind it?
International Women’s Day is a recent event. It does not go back millennia. There were, however, days dedicated to women in the past but had certainly different meanings.
Ancient Days Dedicated to Women
One of the first festivities recorded to celebrate women was in Ancient Egypt in honor of the goddess Danaus. She was the daughter of the god Nilus and women celebrated her. She is credited for bringing festivities dedicated to women to Greece.
The Greek had a big celebration on Thesmophoria, a day between October and November. Only married women celebrated this festival of three days. Two days of solemnity and one of loud celebrations. No men was allowed to celebrate at the risk of being beaten.
Celebration of Women’s Sacrifice
Romans had two days they dedicated to women. The first was in on July 7 and was called Ancillarum Feriae, the Festival of the Serving Women. Women servants paraded the streets in honor of a great sacrifice women servants had done in the early days of Rome.
When the Gaul sacked Rome in 490BC, the city was weakened and tribes around knew it. The Latins approach the city asking for their surrender and demanded all their free Roman maidens. The servants volunteered to take their place, dressed nicely, and were brought to the camp of the enemy. During the night the slaves disarmed all the men and signaled the Roman army who disbanded the enemy. For centuries, the commemorations led to special sacrifices in the Temple. Only women of all status attended this solemn occasion.
The second holiday was not very dissimilar. December 3 was the day of Bona Dea, a rite for only women celebrating the goddess of fertility, and chastity. It was the only time that women were allowed to drink strong wine and offer blood sacrifices. Bona Dea was the Roman name of Demeter, a Greek goddess.
Birth of The International Women’s Day
None of these festivities compare to the meaning of the International Women’s day. The first day to commemorate and drive women’s right was established in America by the Socialist Party of America in 1909. The German delegates that were invited proposed to set aside a date to be used for all women worldwide. It was extremely politicized at first and focused on acquiring women’s right to vote. There was not a set date worldwide to celebrate women, but most countries celebrated between the end of February and early March.
The first “March 8th Women’s day” was held in Germany on 1914, possibly because it was a Sunday. German women did not have the right to vote at that time and the event was focused on trying gather attention on the need for change. During the same day a march in London was organized for the same reason. This is probably why March 8th stuck, as it was the first time that more than one nation coordinated willingly or not events for a women’s cause.
Since then more and more nations have adopted IWD (International Women’s Day). It was adopted in Russia immediately after the Communist Revolution. However, the US who organized the very first event never adopted it as it was at first too politicized by the Socialist and Communist Party.
It was mainly a communist event until 1967 but it morphed into being a day to celebrate women. The UN in 1975, after it was depoliticized, began to officially celebrate it.