Vol. 2, No. 3
March 2015


The History behind Women's History Month




Women's History Month began in 1978 as a week-long celebration created by the Sonoma County Commission in Sonoma, California. Schools in Sonoma County held numerous presentations, talks, and essay contests, along with a county parade in Santa Rosa. The week was chosen to coincide with International Women's Day, which began in Europe in the early 20th century. First held on February 28, 1909, International Women's Day has been held on March 8 since 1914. The holiday spread across the world until it was recognized by the United Nations in 1975.


Similarly, when the Sonoma County Commission created Women's History Week, the practice spread like wildfire across the United States. Grade schools, colleges, and cities alike realized that women's history was sorely lacking from most Americans' knowledge of history, and especially missing from school curriculums. The event caught the notice of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who proclaimed the week of March 8 Women's History Week in 1980. Three years later, the U.S. Congress declared Women's History Week a national celebration.


In 1987, Congress expanded Women's History Week to Women's History Month at the request of the National Women's History Project, with bipartisan support. Every year since, the U.S. President has given a presidential address in honor of Women's History Month.


If you'd like to read up on some local women's history, check out this blog post by the Chicago Public Library, or our own website at wwhpchicago.org !







This year, the Coalition of Labor Union Women honors not one but two WWHP board members at its annual International Women's Day Awards Dinner!


Helen Ramirez-Odell has been awarded the Olga Madar award. Olga Madar was the first woman to serve on the United Auto Workers International Executive Board and played an instrumental part in the formation of CLUW. She was elected the national president in 1974 after retiring from her work at UAW.



Mac-Z Zurawski has been awarded the Florence Criley award. Florence Criley was an active member of several unions before joining the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America as the director. She continued to be active in the labor movement before joining together with Olga Madar and others to form CLUW.





A Piece by the One and Only Mother Jones


As a final teaser for our Mother Jones Fundraiser, here is an excerpt from Mother Jones' autobiography, about her time in Chicago:


From 1880 on, I became wholly engrossed in the labor movement. In all the great industrial centers the working class was in rebellion. The enormous immigration from Europe crowded the slums, forced down wages and threatened to destroy the standard of living fought for by American working men. Throughout the country there was business depression and much unemployment. In the cities there was hunger and rags and despair. Foreign agitators who had suffered under European despots preached various schemes of economic salvation to the workers. The workers asked only for bread and a shortening of the long hours of toil. The agitators gave them visions. The police gave them clubs.


Particularly the city of Chicago was the scene of strike after strike, followed by boycotts and riots. The years preceding 1886 had witnessed strikes of the lake seamen, of dock laborers and street railway workers. These strikes had been brutally suppressed by policemen's clubs and by hired gunmen. The grievance on the part of the workers was given no heed. John Bonfield, inspector of police, was particularly cruel in the suppression of meetings where men peacefully assembled to discuss matters of wages and of hours. Employers were defiant and open in the expression of their fears and hatreds. The Chicago Tribune, the organ of the employers, suggested ironically that the farmers of Illinois treat the tramps that poured out of the great industrial centers as they did other pests, by putting strychnine in the food.


~From The Autobiography of Mother Jones, published 1925  


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