Celebrating International Women's Day: A Look at How We Got Here


Today is International Women’s Day, an official holiday in many countries. In some nations, the day has similar status to Mother’s Day, where children honor their mothers and grandmothers with small gifts.

IWD was created by American and European Socialist organizations at the turn of the 20th century to demand better rights for women. National Women's Day was celebrated for the first time in the U.S. in 1909. At that time, American women used the day to march and demand shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights.

Over the century the concept and the way IWD is celebrated has evolved as the status of women has changed. Some still use IWD to bring to light issues, like the fact that women are still not paid the equivalent of their male counterparts, that in many fields women still lag behind men in high ranking positions, and globally, women’s literacy rates and access to health care is less than men's.

From the WNYC Archives, we present an audio history of the Women’s Movement.

On August 26, 1970, feminists in the U.S. went on a strike called: Women's Strike for Equality, which was a challenge to the traditional roles of women in society. The strike was organized by Betty Friedan, the author of 1963 book 'The Feminine Mystique' and was held to mark the 50th anniversary of women's right to vote. In New York, 20,000 women joined in the protest.

Here is a clip of a woman speaking at the strike about women's plans around the country to give up their household tasks for one day in support of the strike.

As momentum built, some American women began to take their fight to the streets of New York demanding gender equality. In the clip below, a 26-year-old college student, Mary Scully, speaks at a meeting on the Women's Strike about the recent organizing by the women’s liberation movement.

Here Scully talks further about the poster campaign.

Betty Friedan

Friedan became a household name in the 1970's leading a new incarnation of the women's movement. In the clips below, Friedan tells reporter Eleanor Fischer about her thoughts on the women’s liberation movement and the strike.

Protests at Miss America Pageant 1968

The women's liberation staged one of their most public demonstrations at the annual Miss America Pageant, with the message that beauty contests degrade women. The protest shocked the entire country and was heavily covered by the media. Here is an excerpt of a report by reporter Eleanor Fischer.

But not all were amused by the criticism directed towards the pageant, including the pageant chairman at the time, Albert Marks. Here is an excerpt of Marks sharing his thoughts on the protest with Fischer.

When protesters hurled their bras and make-up outside of the pageant, many were displeased. Below, Fischer speaks to men and women on the street who were generally appalled by the protesters' actions.

Special thanks to WNYC's archivist Andy Lanset and Elizabeth Starkey.