In the United States, two dramatic events caused the American organizers to devote early celebrations of International Women’s Day to work place safety and fair labor laws. The first event was the Triangle Shirt Factory fire in New York City. Young women and girls had been locked in the factory to prevent theft. As fire climbed from floor to floor, the women jump from the windows. The fire engine ladders could not reach them. 147 died. The owners, who had locked the door, were exonerated. Their right to protect property exceeded the right of the women to safety. The second event was a labor strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which has become known as the Bread and Roses Strike. Massachusetts had enacted a law reducing the maximum working hours for women and children from 56 hours to 54 hours. The mill owners responded by reducing weekly pay. The lost pay was enough to buy several loaves of bread for these women and their families. The strike succeeded. In the poem associated with the strike, written by James Oppenheim and published in The American Magazine; December 1911, we can hear the striking women:
“Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes; Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses! As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead. Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread. Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew. Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too! As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days. The rising of the women means the rising of the race.… Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”
In many countries, gifts of flowers traditionally mark International Women’s Day.
On March 8, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) will host the first ever celebration of International Women’s Day on Marco Island. AAUW invites all to join their celebration at the Island Country Club. Gather at 11:30; gourmet lunch ($40) at noon, followed by the presentation “Empowering Women in the 21st Century” by Dr. Aysegul Timur, Hodges University. Reservations are required. Contact Judith O’Brien, 239-389-7497, Anne Batte 239-394-3563 or Pat Santiago 239-389-4767.