In 1965, March 8 was declared a non-working day, and everything turned into a gentle and joyful women’s holiday. It was then that women began to give flowers and gifts

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If the first suffragettes, to whom we owe much of the holiday of March 8, had been told that in a hundred years women would begin to prepare for this day in beauty salons, and then accept flowers, perfumes and compliments as a gift from men, the frantic ladies in their hearts could to shoot someone. And the reaction of the revolutionary Clara Zetkin, who gave Women’s Day the status of an annual and international one, is generally hard to imagine…

The Americans started first. On March 8, 1857, several hundred workers of clothing and shoe factories in New York marched through Manhattan on the “march of empty pots”, that is, they beat these pots with all their might, demanding that they be given a 10-hour working day instead of a 16-hour one, equal to men wages and suffrage (considered in those days the prerogative of men).

Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxembourg

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British ladies stirred up next, and not just any working women, but quite wealthy and prosperous representatives of the middle and upper classes. Mrs Millicent Fawcett founded in 1897 the National Union for Women’s Suffrage. And she began to convince the men that it was completely illogical when, for example, the mistress of the estate manages perfectly well with a hundred servants, grooms, butlers, gardeners, and they vote in parliamentary elections, while the mistress herself does not, because she is considered insufficiently far-sighted for this.

In addition (Ms. Fawcett emphasized), many women work, and even, sometimes, hold responsible positions (to take, for example, the field of education), and pay taxes according to the laws established by Parliament. But at the same time, they have no opportunity to influence the parliament. Where, you ask, is justice? Alas! The majority in Parliament, not heeding the arguments of Mrs. Fawcett, still believed that women had no understanding of politics, therefore, they should not be allowed into political life …

Greeting card from March 8

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Such stubbornness ended badly for Parliament. Six years later, Mrs. Fawcett (a real lady to her fingertips) was replaced by much more radical ladies. They stated that they were tired of waiting and that they were turning to violent actions. The new union included several hundred respectable and educated ladies from 18 to 80 years old, who declared themselves militants, that is, warriors. However, everyone else called them suffragettes (from the English word suffrage – suffrage).

To begin with, two suffragettes, pushing aside the constables, burst into a meeting of Parliament with a poster: “The right to vote for women!” Parliament is not a passage yard, you can’t break into it by pushing constables aside. In a word, the ladies were sued and sentenced to a fine – the militants did not pay and proudly went to prison as debtors. On another occasion, several female warriors boarded boats and floated down the Thames, shouting filthy public oaths at the government in amazement.

The press was full of scandalous reports from the scene and caricatures of suffragettes. They were depicted either in men’s clothes, or with cigars in their mouths, although this was not true. Ladies who fought for equality, except that they cut their hair (and even then not all of them) and slightly shortened their skirts – by the width of the ribbon, which was usually sheathed at the hem. In a word, there was nothing particularly defiant in the appearance of the suffragettes. But in behavior…

What they just did not get up! They staged marches, and if the cops tried to intervene, they beat them with umbrellas. The royal family stood up for the policemen – the suffragettes chained themselves to the fence of Buckingham Palace. The deputies were indignant – the militant ladies, in retaliation, began to ruin “the most precious thing that London men have”: golf courses and wine cellars. The Anglican Church condemned the atrocities – suffragettes set fire to several cathedrals. As part of one of the actions, the rebellious “weaker sex” knocked out windows and doors throughout Oxford Street and dismantled the pavement.

The militants cut the telephone wires. They threw coal and stones. Winston Churchill (at that time an MP) was threatened with the kidnapping of his child, so a heavy guard had to be hired. They blew up the house (albeit empty) of another popular politician – David Lloyd George. In the National Gallery, a certain Mary Richardson chopped up Velasquez’s painting “Venus in front of a mirror” with a kitchen knife. It was a real bacchanalia! English women, until recently respectable mothers of families, seem to have broken the chain.

Portrait of a young girl with a bouquet of flowers. 1920

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There was no point in arresting them. This only provided the suffragettes with unnecessary noise in the press. Once in the cell, they immediately went on a hunger strike. And they were ready to go to the end. Moreover, the suffragettes believed that it would not be superfluous if one of them died – in their opinion, the women’s movement, having found its “martyrs”, would gain unprecedented strength. In order to prevent deaths, the prison administration was ordered to force-feed the starving militants, but this looked like a flagrant violation of human rights, and such a practice had to be quickly abandoned.

However, another way out was devised, called “cat and mouse”: the jailers waited until the starving lady brought herself to a critical state – and then she was released. The meaning of the hunger strike disappeared, and the protesting suffragette began to eat. And when she regained her strength and could already get out of bed on her own, she was arrested again – under any, sometimes completely fictitious pretext. And everything started all over again. In a word, none of the militants managed to starve to death for the right to vote in elections on an equal basis with men. But many have lost their health.

The martyr – the first and last – the suffragists received on June 8, 1913, when a certain Emily Wilding Davidson threw herself at the feet of the king at the derby. Rather, under the hooves of his horse. Soon she died, and the women rejoiced: finally, stubborn men will have to admit they were wrong! But the men … only asserted themselves in their opinion. They reasoned like this: “If educated and well-bred women reach such stupidity, then what can be expected from some peasant women? No, in no case should women be given the right to vote – they have minds like geese ”…

Real men Clara and Rose

Germany also had its own suffragettes – though not so violent. One of them was Josephine Eisner, who gave birth on July 5, 1857 to her daughter Clara, whom the world will eventually recognize under the name Zetkin.

The Eisner family lived in the small town of Wiederau. Josephine’s husband and Clara’s father Gottfried Eisner was a teacher at the parish high school, among other things he taught the Law of God, and on Sundays he played the organ in the local church. And he humbly let his wife go once a week to meetings of the local group of the “Women’s Union” in the tavern “At Three Pines”, where, having hung a black-red-gold flag of the organization over the entrance, freedom-loving frau talked quite peacefully about discrimination against women and drank a mug of beer, thus demonstrating that the vicious circle of traditional interests of a German woman – “kitchen, church, kinder (that is, a child)” – is broken forever.

However, Josephine was still engaged in gymnastics and taught her two daughters, Clara and Gertrude, to this occupation, which was considered purely masculine …

Suffragette cartoons were very popular in England

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There was no talk of any radical forms of protest. Moreover, Josephine was terribly angry when it turned out that her Clara (by that time a graduate of the female teacher’s seminary, a pretty, neat and sensible fraulein) got in touch with the socialists. “This could cast a shadow over the entire women’s equality movement!” mother said. And Clara had to leave the Women’s Union. She didn’t care, though. She had a good reason to prefer the socialists – she fell in love with the Russian revolutionary Osip Zetkin, who was hiding in Germany from arrest.

He was a lean, slightly stooped, sickly and very nervous young man who delivered fiery speeches. Clara went with him to all the secret meetings of the Social Democrats, carried illegal literature in her reticule, and once even, fleeing from the police, was forced to jump out the window. Soon Osip Zetkin was captured and expelled from the country. A couple of months later, he wrote to Clara that he had settled in Paris and was waiting for her.

In November 1882, the lovers were reunited in a tiny apartment in Montmartre. Their two sons, Maxim and Kostya, were also born there. They lived hard: Osip published in left-wing newspapers for a pittance. However, for some time he began to get sick more and more. Clara gave lessons, washed clothes in rich houses and learned the trade of a revolutionary. In particular, Laura Lafargue, the daughter of Marx, whom she became friends with in Paris.

Seven years later, Osip died of tuberculosis. By this time, Clara was barely 32 years old, but she looked at all 50 – her work, children, and her husband’s illness exhausted her so much. The sons were still very small: one was five years old, the other three. They didn’t even understand what had happened, and, returning from their father’s beggarly funeral, they joyfully wormed their way into the festive crowd coming towards them (the Eiffel Tower was open that day and Paris was walking), danced to the accordion and shouted “Hurrah!” with everyone together.

Soon Clara returned home to Germany. And from that moment began her great political career: she became the editor of the socialist newspaper Equality. By the way, she persuaded Robert Bosch, the founder of the famous electrical engineering concern, to finance the newspaper. Over time, Klara became such an authoritative figure among the Social Democrats that they said about her and her friend, the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg: flimsy party.”

On the eve of her fortieth birthday, Frau Zetkin fell in love. In the student of the Academy of Arts, artist Georg Friedrich Zundel. He was 18 years younger than her, but Clara was not afraid to marry him. But when her eldest son, 22-year-old Kostya, became the lover of 36-year-old Rosa Luxembourg, she was very unhappy and even because of this she quarreled with Rosa for a while. By the way, unlike Clara, Rosa was very ugly: a large nose, a man’s mouth, too big a head, too short legs, besides, she was lame from birth. But the fiery fighters, who appreciated her revolutionary temperament, fell madly in love with Rosa. It even got to the point that her former lover, having learned about the affair with Kostya, chased them with a knife.

Protest demonstration in New York. 1912

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Both unequal love unions – both Clara and Rose – ended badly. Georg left Clara for the sake of the young daughter of the same Robert Bosch. Kostya Zetkin left Rosa at about the same time – and the common grief brought her friends together again. Since then, they have devoted themselves wholeheartedly to politics. Moreover, the Rose is in a global, revolutionary sense. And Clara is more and more with a “female bias” (mother’s lessons were not in vain!). For example, she helped the workers of a sewing workshop to get rid of the harassment of craftsmen who started real harems there. (Clara published an accusatory article in the newspaper.) She also advocated a lot for giving women the right to vote.

On what dates was March 8 celebrated

In 1910, Clara traveled to Copenhagen, to a conference of women socialists, and there she proposed to establish an international women’s day. It was meant that on this day women would organize rallies and processions, drawing public attention to their demands. The demands were the same as those on the March of empty pans on March 8, 1857 in New York: economic and political equality with men. Therefore, it was logical to choose this particular date for Women’s Day – March 8th.

But the next year in Germany, Austria and Denmark, women took to the streets not on March 8th, but on March 19th. Which also had a certain meaning: on this day in 1848, the king of Prussia, frightened by an armed uprising, promised to carry out reforms, including granting women the right to vote, but he cheated and did not fulfill his promises. Then came the uniform leapfrog with dates. In 1912, International Women’s Day was celebrated on May 12th. In the next, 1913, in each country it is different: somewhere on the 2nd, somewhere on the 9th, somewhere on March 12th. And only in 1914 the date was finally fixed: March 8.

It is interesting that in Russia, which then lived according to the Julian, and not according to the Gregorian calendar and thus lagged behind Europe by 13 days, March 8 (and, accordingly, Women’s Day) fell on the current February 23. It was on this day in 1917 that women took to the streets of Petrograd, they were joined by men protesting against the German war, and clashed with the Cossacks and the police. In a matter of days, all this developed into an armed uprising – in a word, the February Revolution took place. Clara Zetkin could be proud: her idea from March 8 in Russia gave amazing results!

Postage stamp depicting Clara Zetkin

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A year and a half later, in November 1918, following the example of then Soviet Russia, the German communists raised an uprising in Berlin. It was suppressed, while Rosa Luxembourg died (she was arrested and torn to pieces on the way to prison). Clara lived for many more years. She managed not only to live up to the granting of suffrage to women in Germany, but even for many years she herself was elected a member of the Reichstag from the Communist Party.

In 1932, after the next election, as the oldest deputy, she opened a meeting of the Reichstag. She made a short speech, expressed the hope that “she will be able to live to see the happy day when, as an elder, she will open the first meeting of the Congress of Soviets in Soviet Germany.” After that, according to the protocol, she handed over the chairmanship to the deputy of the faction that won the majority of votes in the recent elections. Hermann Goering. The next is known…

Clara died a year later. In Russia, where she often traveled from the Comintern. She was buried near the Kremlin wall… And International Women’s Day took root, especially in Russia. Every year on March 8, the Soviet government reported to the citizens about the achievements in terms of making life easier for Soviet women.

Over time, this event began to lose its political overtones, and in 1965, March 8 was declared a non-working day, and everything turned into a gentle and joyful women’s holiday. It was then that women began to give flowers and gifts. But… only in Russia. In other countries, if someone else remembers March 8, it is feminists who continue to fight for their rights.


By Yara

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