International Women’s Day Celebrated
On March 8 the world celebrates International Women’s Day, an opportunity to honor and appreciate women as well as highlight and examine the ongoing struggle for women’s rights. The concept for this celebration came from feminists and political activists Luise Zietz and Clara Zetkin, who proposed it during a 1910 women’s conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark. The first official observance was held in 1911.
Clara Zetkin (1857-1933), born in Germany, devoted her life to fighting for the rights of women, the poor, and the oppressed. She joined the Socialist Workers’ Party when she was 21, and from 1891 to 1917 she edited its women’s newspaper, Die Gleichheit. She later joined the Communist Party of Germany, representing it in the German Parliament from 1920 to 1933. In 1932 she courageously urged the German people to oppose the rise of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party. Zetkin was in exile in the Soviet Union when she died on June 20, 1933.
Zetkin was the first Communist member of the German Parliament. This report of her first speech in the Reichstag was published by the Olympia Daily Recorder (Olympia, Washington) on Aug. 6, 1920:
Reichstag Hears Its First Woman
(By Associated Press.)
Berlin, Aug. 5.—A little gray-haired, sharp-featured woman, stepping briskly up the steps towards the speaker’s desk in the Reichstag. Tired after a long acrimonious debate on Germany’s shattered resources between the former imperial finance minister Hefferich and the present holder of that office, Dr. Wirth, most deputies were smoking democratic pipes in the vast, red-carpeted lobby, whilst jaded reporters munched black bread sandwiches in the press gallery.
Attention, however, at once became riveted on the frail figure in drab, unfashionable clothes, which oddly contrasted with the opulently carved and gilded figures of Teutonic womanhood that support the ceiling.
The speaker was Clara Zetkin, the first communist member of the German parliament. Members came trooping back to listen to the newcomer’s maiden speech.
One could not escape from a sense of extreme contrast which she presented to the former speaker. Hefferich, a rigid Prussian type, with his haughty, staccato voice, quick as lightning at mordant repartee, a representative of a system that is dead and gone, and this earnest little woman, vibrant with passionate energy, almost prophetic in her vision, yet awkward at meeting matter-of-fact posers from a chance heckler.
Clara Zetkin opened a perspective of future Germany which would be closely allied with Soviet Russia; a Germany where a revolutionary dictatorship would hold sway; where the bourgeoisie would be forced to surrender arms to the proletariat; where everyone would be compelled to work; where large states would be divided among the peasantry.
The house smiled tolerantly; the extreme radicals alone cheered tumultuously.
Her obituary was published by the Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey) on June 20, 1933:
Clara Zetkin, 76, Dead; Leader of Communists
Moscow, June 20 (U.P.)—Clara Zetkin, the aged “grandmother of German Communism,” died suddenly last night in a sanatorium at Archangelskoye, suburb of Moscow.
Death was attributed to heart disease. Frau Zetkin, who would have been 76 next month, had been at the sanatorium since June 1932, except for a brief visit to Berlin to open the Reichstag in August of that year.
She will be given a grandiose funeral by Soviet authorities.
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