National Clearinghouse on
Marital and Date Rape
mirror site: http://members.aol.com/ncmdr
3/8/98: I.W.D/Women's History Month/Late 60s Women's Liberation Connection
It is wonderful to read in a women's paper ( Sojourner at http://www.tiac.net/users/sojourn/ ) in the 90s, or even earlier, that there were good reasons for the Russian Revolution! I do always read your outstanding film review section first. In the review of "Anastasia" (Sojourner, Jan. 98) the dozen years from Bloody Sunday to the Russian Revolution are necessarily compressed. So I thought I would write you, for Women's History Month, the story of a little known connection between the Women's Liberation Movement in this country and the Russian Revolution. I am grateful to editor Stephanie Poggi for encouragement for this memoir for our Library's 30th anniversary year, written in the month of February, 1998, the 150-year anniversary of the Communist Manifesto.
I'll start with the strike which was inspired by Russian women in 1917, the discovery of which inspired me to help organize a demonstration in Berkeley for International Women's Day on March 8, 1969, and to begin to build the idea of Women's History Month around March 8. Our Women's History Library, which maintained the International archive of our movement from 1968-74, took a quantum leap forward from the national publicity as a result of that Berkeley demonstration. There had been no such demonstration for IWD in the US since 1947. By the next year, 1970, there were Women's Liberation events in 30 cities around the world for March 8.
Back in late 1968, I saw the 1929 Soviet film "The End of St. Petersburg" by Pudovkin. The women's demonstration in St. Petersburg on February 23, 1917 for "bread, peace and land" is clearly the spark which ignited the strike for the Putilov factory workers. Their strike toppled the rule of the czars within four days of the women's protest. What is not known, partly due to the confusion of the use of another calendar system by the Eastern church, is that February 23 was March 8 on the Western calendar and the Bolshevik women who organized the demonstration over the protests of their male comrades were in fact deliberately celebrating International Women's Day which had been declared 7 years earlier.
Although by 1969 I had considered myself a Socialist for 13 years, had been immersed in Left politics in New York and Berkeley, and I had been to the Soviet Union twice to celebrate the 50th anniversary in 1967, I still did not learn until late 1968 that International Women's Day was based on a US event on March 8, 1908. It had been celebrated big time in the Socialist countries around the world, but by 1969 in the USSR it had deteriorated into something like Mother's Day in the US where women are given flowers, and the day was ignored here.
In Nov. 1968 I called for US celebrations of IWD in a review of "The End of St. Petersburg" for the UC Berkeley newspaper The Daily Californian (no wonder I felt an instant affinity for Linda Wong's review of the cartoon version of the revolution in "Anastasia"!). I had just been told by Noel Ignatin, a socialist active in Chicago, about the Russian women inspiring the 1917 strike by demanding an end to World War 1 as well as bread and land. He also told me that the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen in 1910 had declared March 8 International Working Women's Day in a motion made by Clara Zetkin, a German Communist, and seconded by Lenin, the Russian Bolshevik (majority) party leader whose triumphant return from exile was made possible by the so -called February Revolution of 1917- the one begun by women on March 8 on the Western Calendar. I believe his source was Isaac Deutscher's "The Unfinished Revolution: Russia, 1917-1967."
But what really ignited me was that once again American history had been stolen from us. I had just recently been angry about discovering that May Day, the enormous international socialist event on May 1, commemorated the Haymarket Square massacre of the workers in Chicago struggling for an 8-hour day in 1881. Noel told me that the resolution for International Women's Day in 1910 was commemorating a demonstration in New York in 1908 of garment workers who were demanding an end to sweatshops and to child labor, and also the right to vote.
The part about the vote intrigued me because women on the Left in the late 60s were being hooted down and dismissed as bourgeois whenever we demanded our rights as women-indeed as human beings-in 1969. And Leftist men were perpetuating the myth that no one in the working class wanted any women's rights, including the right to vote. I had been collecting mimeoed manifestos and letters to the editors of the leftist press about many such outrages by men in the anti-war and Civil Rights movements for six months or more in order to try recapture my sanity after being battered and nearly killed by my own comrade and lover. (He had been a child prodigy violinist and was by then a revolutionary poet. We met demonstrating in Puerto Rico against the US invasion of Santo Domingo. The grief over the loss of that relationship and my fright over how it ended seemed insurmountable until I discovered the rising up of women in all the movements of the 60s.)
In January/February 1969 I was invited to a little party of sociology professors to show the mimeos and pamphlets to Pauline Bart, who was considering teaching a Women's Studies course, the first at UC Berkeley. As we were being introduced, everyone's favorite male radical professor- David Matza- whose courage had been demonstrated on the Third World Strike picket lines on campus, overheard us, and before I could speak, told Pauline not to bother teaching such a course, because there was not enough about women to fill a quarter course. That betrayal knocked me into the orbit of the pure fury of those heady days. In three days I pestered friends everywhere and pulled together a list of 1,000 women in world history: politics, the arts and sciences.
I had had the immense privilege of going to girls' schools and a women's college. It was only in my last year in college, at UC Berkeley, that I discovered that not everybody knew that women could do everything! I nailed the list to Prof. Matza's door ( in homage to Luther) and went in search of a local women's liberation group through the father of one of its members.
Bill Mandel had a show on the Soviet Union on Pacifica Radio which I started listening to in 1960 in New York, though it originated from Pacifica's mother station in Berkeley. He regularly read from the Soviet press on International Women's Day. His daughter, Phyllis a long time activist, took me to the Berkeley Women's Liberation group which then organized the first street demonstration about International Women's Day since 1947 in the US. Many of us dressed up as women in history from my list. I was a cross between Alexandra Kollontai, the Bolshevik feminist, and Isadora Duncan, the American woman who lived for a time in Russia and transformed the world of dance away from the confines of the ballet.
Liberation News Service picked up the story from a SF paper about our parade in Berkeley and its sources from my list. This caused people from this and many other countries began to send me everything imaginable about women in history, some of them about their own family members. People also came to visit from around the country, and to volunteer. 10,000 copies of the list, by now called the HERSTORY SYNOPSIS, were sold within a few short years. 5,000 people have volunteered here.
We put out the only national women's liberation newsletter from April to December 1969, SPAZM (the Sophia Perovskaya and Andrei Zhelyabov Memorial Society for Peoples' Freedom through Women's Liberation. Sophia and Andrei were lovers. She was the 16-year-old daughter of the governor of St. Petersburg and the two of them assassinated the czar in 188I. I was not comfortable about assassinations as a political tactic, having just lived through several in the 60s. Kennedy, Evers, Malcolm X, King and Kennedy.
But I liked the part about the comrade-lovers, and the rebellious adolescent daughter of a powerful man. The name was also in the style of rock groups, but the last part of it fully embodied my philosophy for peoples' freedom, which I still hold today.) By January 1970 we had to put SPAZM into newsprint as it was too unwieldy as a zine. Other people wanted to do a paper, too- so IT AIN'T ME, BABE was born, the first newspaper of the US Women's Liberation Movement. (People from OFF OUR BACKS called me to pick my brain for their name -- which ended up being a combination of the quote from the Grimke sisters about getting our brothers off our necks and revulsion at the quote attributed to Stokely Carmichael about the position of women in SNCC being prone and silent. Their still-running paper came out only a few weeks later.)
There were many other firsts from the Women's History Library -- The anthology "Masculine/Feminine" in 1969 with all the great manifestos, "The Women's Songbook", "Female Artists Past and Present", "Films by/and/or about Women Internationally, Past and Present", "Bibliography on Rape" and "Women and Religion bibliography." Most lasting are the microfilms of the records of our movement - nearly 1,000,000 documents now available through the National Women's History Project in Winsor, Calif. 707-838-6000. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Besides doing the distribution of our library's resources, the National Women's History Project are the people who carry on the ideas we had at the beginning of our library beyond our wildest dreams, including their idea and work of making Congress declare March as Women's History Month. They also have put up the fabulous website for all the celebrations this year for the 150th anniversary of the Women's Rights Movement in the US: http://www.legacy98.org.
Laura X, Founder/Director
Women's History Library/National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape
(Email from Shelley < email@example.com > )
Footnote to the list of web sites for Women's History Month: please add to your lists!
International Women's Day (since 1911) is the kernel around which Women's History
Month was formed (1981 in the U.S.)
(The "Resources" and "Partners" pages on this site have many other IWD and Women's History links, as well.)
MARCH 8 is IWD
Shelley Jacobs Mintz, Project Director
International Women's Day Celebration
a project of the YWCA of the U.S.A. with four dozen organizations nationwide
(Laura's response to Shelley's email)
Hi Shelley (and Jennifer),
Well, for our women's rights movement's 150th and thanks to your encouragement, I finally wrote the story of how I helped the women's liberation movement of 1969 put International Women's Day back on the map and into the streets and began the work to build National Women's History Month around it (I left out all the events we at the Women's History Library organized after the one in 1969 though). Short version below and long version on our web site (Jennifer and others, please keep listing our web site for this month's activities).
So, Shelley, please don't just simply juxtapose "IWD 1911" and Women's History Month 1981 as you did (reprinted below), because 1911 is the Socialist MOVEMENT honoring of American women's labor. 1981 is when the US CONGRESS made the Month (actually, more correctly, the Week) official. (That took 3-4 years of effort by those incredible women at the National Women's History Project (NWHP) who coordinated and coordinate it all and have provided resources for anyone pre-k thru 12 who wants to celebrate it with or without official sanctions or to lobby to get their schools and work and religious sites to pay attention. Then it took til 1987 to get Congress to declare the Month, also to NWHP's credit).
By 1981 the US women's movement had already been celebrating the month, or at least a week, for a decade at least. Remember, our movement was so enormous by 1974 that not only had our Women's History Library amassed nearly a million documents from our movement in 40 countries(we were the depository for the whole movement), but the UN had to declare an entire year for our movement- 1975- and then a decade.
(It needs to be remembered, as well, that the civil rights movement had declared Black History Week before I came up with ours and those of us who were active in that movement, as I had been since 1960 were paralleling the 19th century women's rights leaders who cut their teeth as organizers in the abolitionist struggle. I mean to say that my idea for the month and, of course, my name later (Sept 17, 1969), came as inspiration from the struggle for the liberation of African Americans in this country.)
I guess I am trying to distinguish apples from oranges here- both delicious fruits of women's labor, but a movement's declaration and a government's declaration are not quite the same, though both necessary! Can you imagine the government of this country declaring International Women's Day officially (with its socialist history)- ie independently of the month? We did it in the Berkeley schools in the early seventies, but Berkeley is the People's Republic, after all.
The NWHP before and after the government declarations in 1981 and 1987 got women's history materials year round into every nook and cranny of our country, that's a better meaning of the word "national" than a government, and I just love it that they got the government to come along and join the fun and give us leverage in our actions and aspirations.
The First US National Women's Conference was in 1977. It was "first" in the sense that the government was involved, certainly not the first national women's liberation movement conference- which was in the late 60s. And it makes me crazy to see the first U.N women's conference called the First International Women's Conference. Anybody who gets to Susan B. Anthony's home in Rochester can see photographs of international women's conferences at the beginning of this century, decades before there was a U.N., and decades after the vote was granted to women of other modern countries. Remember the Isle of Man was the first --of all ironies given the name!
Berkeley isn't so much the People's Republic anymore either! our otherwise fine feminist paper printed an article saying that IWD was an "offshoot of the UN decade which ended in 1985". Oh, please! the UN didn't exist in 1910 and they were pathetic about women when we revived IWD in 1969.
So maybe you could say.... "finally officially declared by Congress in 1981" so that the long history of uncoordinated celebrations and the wonderfully coordinated ones by NHWP could be implicitly acknowledged -- or better yet, acknowledge the NWHP.
The "formation of the month around the kernel of the day of IWD", as you put it below, was my idea in 1969 though it is likely many others around the world at the time had the same idea, because we were all annoyed at there only being a Day for women. Several people, including me, came up with the term HERSTORY.On the other hand, no one else of that era (late sixties) has ever told me they have claimed the Women's History Month idea, and people thanked me for it all thru the early 70's and beyond.
They considered it part of our work being the central archive for the US and International women's movement til 1974.
We also provided publications of our own and phone and mail referrals/ and directories to other groups and individuals for resources for National Women's History week/ month activities, but nothing as resource-rich and coordinated as what the NWHP did since they started in the late 70s. It also never occurred to us, but it did to NWHP, to go to Congress and make them do their job. (We were too alienated from the government by the Vietnam war and by their much too slow response to the civil rights struggle, and then Watergate finished off my generation, we thought. I could not have been more suprised to find myself in the late 70's and 80's lobbying legislatures re marital/date rape laws.)
Our resources were also by and about the contemporary movement mostly, and were more for adults. The NWHP is in my former -Head- Start- teacher's heart because they were always for pre-k thru 12 people which was a dream of mine, and my feminist Anthro major's heart because they were/are multicultural and also brought my dreams of bringing US Women's History into daily public life. That's what I dreamed of doing when I started the Women's History Library, but my plans were instantly derailed by the need for a refuge for battered women and rape victims and a women's center in general and an archive of our emerging movement.
The NWHP has my undying and post-mortem gratitude and support , (may I suggest others put them in their wills?) and we joyfully gave them the microfilm records of our movement to distribute. (HERSTORY, Women and Law, Women and Health/Mental Health). My most fun this year is distributing their Living the Legacy'98 Gazette at conferences because of the raw hunger I see in people's eyes to have info to celebrate the 150th anniverary of the Women's Right's Movement and their own personal beleagured existence! http://www.legacy98.org.
Shelley, you called here! What you do each year is so fabulous for IWD and it is wild that you get it in the NYTIMES, that paper which needs " fitness"* classes so much that it misquoted me 3x in one month and put a "t" in the word "consensual"! (*the motto of the NY Times is "all the news that is fit to print"!
Love always, Laura X
Thanks for writing, Laura, and great to speak with you for our annual call! Sorry I cannot read and respond to each point until tomorrow or after our Town Hall event in NYC (details at Web site, url below).
I am ALWAYS willing and eager to be educated, often at my own expense (...).
Happy IWD, all.
Just a day, but like other holidays, this is a chance for us all to think in solidarity with our community of like-minded hard-working souls, and to assess progress and goals for the year past and coming.
Thank you, Abigail's warriors. Remeber Alice Paul on Sunday: as she said, we're each a piece in the grand mosaic.
PS, not a proclamation! but a Presidential message and one from Madeline ALbright as well for IWD this year. Support from Senators Lautenberg and Torricelli, and COng. Pallone.
This is the second year that Christie Whitman has declared it International WOmen's Day in the State of New Jersey on March 8, as far as I know a U.S. first. GET YOUR STATE TO DO IT NEXT YEAR!
Also the sixth year our little NJ town has done so. A proclamation from the COunty Freeholders, too. SOmetimes just asking and sending along a draft for them to copy will do it. After next week I'll get one onto our web site. My favorite is taking along some kids to receive it at Borough Hall and the Board of Ed meeting. By the way, it's the ONLY thing for which our Bd of Ed and Borough (Town) Council have ever issued a joint proclamation!
True, a proclamation is a piece of paper. but as I heard at the FGM symposium at the UN today, first the treaties, then the laws, then enforcement, maybe. -- while we're all working as hard as we can (with little or no funds) anyway, to make the world a better place so that we can all live in it.
Shelley Jacobs Mintz, Project Director
International Women's Day Celebration
Women's History Month 1997
Our Successful Campaign Against Mexico Spousal Rape
Who We Are and What We Do