Origins of International Women's Day Discussion (Feb 1997)

Query From Jill U. Jackson 13 Feb 1997

A site called HandsNet Headlines has the following information:

"It happened almost 140 years ago, on 8 March 1857. In one of the first organised actions by working women anywhere in the world, hundreds of women workers in garment and textile factories in New York City staged a strike against low wages, long working hours and inhumane working conditions..."

I have never heard the 1857 date and have always used the March 8, 1908 march by immigrant women on the Lower East Side of New York City as the reason March 8 is the date of International Women's Day.

Does anyone have information to back up the claim of a demonstration in 1857? It seems a bit early to me.


>From Maria Elena Raymond 14 Feb 1997

Dear Jill,
I remember this was discussed last year (I believe) on this list. You might want to check the H-Women Homepage at and go to the discussion threads page. There may be some information there that is helpful.

Also, more comments are greatly appreciated, as they will also be added to the existing discussion thread. Best wishes.

>From Linda Ruggles 14 Feb 1997

Dear Jill,
I can't help on the 1857 demonstration, however there were at least two earlier strikes by women in Lowell, Massachusetts. These took place in 1834 and 1836 and involved around 800 in the first and 2,500 in the second. They were protesting wage cuts in 1834 and increases in board fee in 1836. In 1844 the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association was founded but was largely gone by 1847. For additional information see:

Dublin, Thomas _Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860_. (NY, Columbia U Press, 1979 ISBN: 0-231-04166-7(cloth); 0-231-04167-5(pbk).

Dublin, Thomas, Ed. _Farm to Factory; Women's Letters, 1830-1860_(2nd Ed., NY, Columbia U Press, 1993; ISBN: 0-231-08156-1(cloth); 0-231-08157 (pbk).

Additional sources on the subject of 19th century American women's work protests include:

Blewett, Mary H. _Men, Women, and work: Class, Gender and Protest in the New England Shoe Industry, 1790-1910_(Urbana, U of Illinois Press, 1990; ISBN: 0-252-01484-7(cloth); 0-252-06142-x(pbk).

Blewett, Mary H., Ed. _We Will Rise In Our Might: Workingwomen's Voices From Nineteenth-Century New England_(Ithaca,NY; Cornell U Press, 1991; ISBN: 0-8014-2246-9 (cloth); 0-8014-9537-7 (pbk). Hope these help.

>From David Doughan 17 Feb 1997 I think the best account of the origins of International Women's Day was given by Temma Kaplan in "Feminist Studies" (Winter, 1985). 1857 definitely does seem to be wrong.

>From Judith Ezekiel 20 Feb 1997

The best article I know on the creation of the mythical origins of International Women's Day--that is the March 8, 1857 date--appeared in the French journal: Kandel, Liliane and Francoise Picq, "Le Mythe des origines: A Propos de la journee internationale des femmes," _la revue d'en face_ 12 (Autumn 1982): 67-80. It should be available in several American university libraries.