International Women’s Day in Feminist Magazines: A Short but Radical History

Some of the earliest coverage of International Women’s Day (IWD) in feminist magazines of the 1970s-80s takes the form of demonstrations, like this one advertised in Red Rag issue 4 (1973):

Red Rag write about the origin of IWD in the feminist strike:

How many of us realise that one of the events, which sparked off the Russian Revolution, was a demonstration held on March 8th, 1917, in Petrograd by women textile workers on strike?

[…] Clara Zetkin, at the International Conference of Women in Copenhagen, in 1910, proposed that March 8th should be a day, celebrated internationally by women. Since then it has been sporadically celebrated. However, with growing consciousness among women, it has gained in significance.

Red Rag issue 4

In 1981, in response to a number of queries from their readers, Spare Rib publish a short history of IWD by Sue O’Sullivan. In O’Sullivan’s words:

International Women’s Day originated in the United States
in the intertwined struggles of socialist women, working
women, and suffrage movement women. The date of March 8
apparently marks a strike by women workers in Chicago in
1909. But historical ‘dates’ are both preceded and succeeded
by many trends and events. It is clear that March 8 1909
symbolises the ferment of women coming out of a number of different situations.


I would like IWD to reflect the diversity of our militancy, the breadth of our creativity, the strength of our collective struggle. The mean, reactionary nature of our present government, the crisis of British capitalism, the growth of racism, the rise of conservatism in relation to women, must be met by an enlarged women’s movement — not falsely united on some colourless, ‘careful’ level, but at the points of highest anger, determination and pleasure.

Sue O’Sullivan, Spare Rib 104 pp.3-4
Spare Rib logo

In 1982, Speak Out (the publication of Brixton Black Women’s Group) gives a brief history of IWD, and publishes a report on the IWD celebrations that took place at the Black Women’s Centre in that year:

For Speak Out, IWD was ‘integral’ to Black feminist activism and international solidarity:

Over the last 10-15 years there has been a world-wide resurgence of feminist consciousness, and this has been accompanied by a re-emergence of IWD celebrations everywhere

For women in the Third World this has been an integral part of their participation in the overall struggle for National Liberation and Socialism. For Black Women in Britain, IWD is integral to our struggle against racism and capitalism.

Speak Out no. 4, 1982

Outwrite, an explicitly internationalist feminist newspaper, centres IWD more prominently than other feminist periodicals of the 1970s-1980s. Here are four vivid Outwrite IWD covers, dating from 1983-1987:

In Outwrite issue 12, a double spread on IWD covered celebrations in Mauritius, India, Austria, Palestine’s West Bank, Brighton (!), Australia, Switzerland, Poland, Malta and Japan.

In March 1987, Outwrite gathered and published IWD greetings from dozens of feminist organisations across the UK, including London Lesbian Line, Asian Women’s Resource Centre, The London Irish Women’s Centre, Silver Moon Women’s Bookshop, Sisterwrite Bookshop, Peckham Black Women’s Group, Feminist Library, the National Abortion Campaign, Southall Black Sisters, Spare Rib and Trouble and Strife – a demonstration of the continued strength of the feminist movement, even in the late 1980s.

Feminist magazines also published schedules of IWD events – such as this illustrated ‘diary of events’ from Outwrite 45, or these IWD listings, showing events happening all over the UK, from Spare Rib 176:

SPARE RIB’s first IWD front cover, March 1987.

What these magazines tell us is that IWD has a long, revolutionary and intersectional history.

As Outwrite put it in 1983: long live women’s INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY! against all forms of sexism, classism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism and neoliberal co-option.


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