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BOOK OF THE WEEK — Woman’s Place — In the Fight for a Better World

Woman’s Place — In the Fight for a Better World
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
New York: New Century Publishers, 1947
HQ1426 F72 1947

Women’s Day is celebrated globally on March 8th every year. It’s origins, however, are much closer to home than we might expect. Spurred on by labor and union movements of the early 20th century, the idea for a “women’s day” came out of New York’s lower East Side. 

In addition to the early strikes and protests of miners, workers in the textile and steel industries also began organizing to demand better working conditions. The growth of labor unions quickly began influencing votes come Election Day, but among those votes one voice was made to keep silent.

“A bunch of women! They don’t count!” 

That’s how petitions sent to congressmen or local politicians were handled. In turn, the women began talking to each other, and the Socialist Women’s Committee began organizing female workers on the East Side to demonstrate a need for political action, “to improve working and living conditions, to protect their children.”

“They wanted laws against the sweat shops, to clean up the tenements, for a minimum wage, against child labor, for shorter hours… The tired overworked women from the factories, the harassed mothers from the slum kitchens, poured out enthusiastically for the mass gathers in the squares of the East Side.” 

In 1908, March 8 was adopted as a day to agitate and demonstrate for the right to vote. 

Momentum spread quickly and across the globe, reaching the International Socialist Congress in 1910. Held in Copenhagen, delegates from the world unanimously accepted the proposal by German Revolutionary, Clara Zetkin. March 8 was declared International Women’s Day. Among the American delegates was “Big Bill” Haywood, a Salt Lake City native. 

International Women’s Day was a central point in gaining women’s suffrage. 

– In 1917, women gained suffrage in the Soviet Union, after which March 8 became a national holiday there.

– In 1920, the Federal Government granted women the right to vote in the United States.

– In 1928, Britain followed. 

– In 1947, when this pamphlet was published, forty-six million American women were eligible to vote. 

– In 1975, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day and the International Women’s Year.

Today, International Women’s Day continues to be just as important as ever. 

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964 ) was a labor leader and activist who, by the time she was 17, became a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. Described as the “East Side Joan of Arc,” Gurley Flynn organized labor campaigns all over the country, including among garment workers in Pennsylvania, silk weavers in New Jersey, restaurant workers in New York, miners in Minnesota, Missoula, Montana, and Spokane, Washington; and textile workers in Massachusetts.

She was also a prominent member of the National Board of the Communist Party, U.S.A. and a veteran leader of the American labor movement, a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a visible proponent of women’s rights, birth control, and women’s suffrage.

Contributed by Lyuba Basin, Rare Books Curator

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