Roses distributed on International Women's Day
Students receive a single rose after entering Tyler Haynes Commons on International Women’s Day in 2023.

International Women’s Day: How roses led to revolution

March 1, 2024


On March 6, Spiders walking through the Commons were greeted with an unexpected gift from Richmond’s Slavic Club — a single rose commemorating International Women’s Day.

The global holiday, traditionally held on March 8, traces its roots to New York City in 1909. However, it took off in 1917 when Russian women launched a protest in the name of Women’s Day and demanded an end to World War I.

Known as the February Revolution or Women’s Revolution, the weeklong demonstrations involved protests against food rationing and widespread worker strikes. It ended with the collapse of the Russian monarchy and laid the foundation for the Bolshevik Revolution that followed in October.

“It was started by women who could not feed their children anymore,” says Natasha McCauley, director of Russian studies and one of the event’s organizers. “They knew their government was giving most of its funds to the war, and morale was very low. They started a motto of ‘Bread and Peace’ and took to the streets demanding more food.”

After the war, women’s rights activist Alexandra Kollontai worked with Vladimir Lenin to declare the international holiday a national holiday in Russia in recognition of the February Revolution and feminist movements in the early Soviet Union.

In Slavic countries today, it’s a holiday on par with Valentine’s Day in the U.S., with women receiving flowers, chocolates, and jewelry. The Richmond Slavic Club’s celebration builds on that tradition and, in recent years, has grown from distributing $100 worth of roses to nearly $1,000 this year.

Senior Lillian Tzanev, a member of the Slavic Club, says she likes how Richmond’s event “honors the nuanced history of the Soviet Union. In the early Soviet years, the government strongly pushed for gender equality, far before other world powers.”

McCauley says it’s also a way to spread joy and relieve stress around midterms — and they include everyone in the celebration. “We give roses to anyone who wants one. We are not gender exclusive.”

Junior Zoe Beede, a member of the Slavic Club, says it’s always a fun surprise for students. “Since it’s a lesser-known holiday on our campus, people aren’t expecting the celebration,” she says. “I participated in my first year, and it felt like we uplifted the mood on campus and made people feel beautiful and celebrated. I’ve looked forward to it every year since then.”