“Happy” International Women’s Day?

"Think of it, three women ordained in two days—Surely WE are coming to the front—and tonight I am to give a lecture on Equal Suffrage.”

– from a 1889 letter by Rev. Helen Putnam, Unitarian, 1840 – 1895

“All endings imply a beginning. All accomplishments suggest preparation.”

– Rev. Eleanor Gordon, Unitarian, 1852 – 1942
Vintage photo of The Rev Marion Murdock and the Rev. Caroline Bartlett Crane,Unitarians and parish ministers, around 1890. 
The Rev Marion Murdock and the Rev. Caroline Bartlett Crane, Unitarians and parish ministers, around 1890.

Today (Friday, March 8th) is International Women’s Day, huzzah! And Sunday is the 137th anniversary of women being granted the right to vote in congregational meetings at North Parish. That happened on March 10, 1887… 242 years after the founding of the congregation.

The idea for an International Women’s Day (IWD) came out of the U.S. labor movement. The Socialist Party of America first declared a National Women’s Day in the U.S. in 1909. The next year, while attending an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Claira Zetkin proposed having an International Women’s Day. 100 women from 17 nations unanimously agreed. It became “official” 65 years later, in 1975, when the United Nations started celebrating IWD.

This year, the United Nations IWD website says that an additional $360 billion is needed per year to achieve gender equality. Closing the wage gap could boost GDP by 20% per capita. If current trends continue, more than 342 million women and girls may be living in extreme poverty worldwide by 2030.

In the U.S., according the Pew Research center, the gender pay gap narrowed in the 80’s and 90’s but stalled out after that. Women- both college educated and not- made 82 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2022, about the same as they did two decades previously, in 2002 (when they earned 80 cents to the dollar.) The gap persists even though today women are more likely than men to have a college degree; the pattern is that women lose ground as they progress through their work lives.

We all know that there is a renewed attack on women in this country- on our bodily autonomy, our right to be free from gender-based violence, our right to raise children in a livable world. When judges declare frozen embryos to be “extrauterine children” and doctors or women themselves are threatened with imprisonment for even life-saving medical abortions, we know there is some powerful patriarchy- and religious patriarchy– at work.

Our theme for the month is “transformation”. In UU congregations, we work this at every level. We actively invite and pursue personal transformation, the transformation of our congregations, and the transformation of society. Because we do this as an institution- not as individuals- we have been able to pass the torch for women’s voting rights, social reform and inclusion over generations.

The UN theme for this International Women’s Day is “invest in women: accelerate progress”. Perhaps this is a good day to do just that, one way or another!
Yours in faith, Rev. Lee

P.S. If you want to be inspired by the power of friendship, female networks and the legacy of U/U women our ministry before they were pushed out again, I recommend the group biography by Cynthia Tucker entitled Prophetic Sisterhood: Liberal Women ministers of the Frontier, 1880 – 1930. To read about both religious and social reformers, there is the larger compendium of biographies called Standing Before Us: UU Women and Social Reform, 1776 – 1936, Rev. Dorothy Emerson, editor, www.uuabookstore.org. I can lend out either book.