Women's Day Celebrations

Women's Day Celebrations

Date Observed: Varies
Location: Churches nationwide

Women's Day celebrations are dedicated to honoring the women in a church's congregation, raising funds for women's church missions, and recognizing the contributions of women in all areas of life. Women's Day originated within the National Baptist Convention, but is now observed by churches of many different denominations throughout the United States.

Historical Background

In the late 1800s, women lived with many restrictions and lacked opportunities that were available to men. Women were often discouraged from getting an advanced education or pursuing serious studies, and they were not yet allowed to vote. It was commonly believed that women were incapable of making important contributions to society. Social norms dictated that women should limit their activities to raising children and performing household chores. It was considered inappropriate for a woman to participate in many activities, including intellectual pursuits or any sort of leadership position. Women were limited in the kind of jobs they could hold, and they often had only two options: domestic servant or elementary school teacher. During this time, opportunities for African-American women were even more constrained, and most who held jobs worked as servants.

As a young girl growing up in Virginia during the late 19th century, Nannie Helen Burroughs wanted to change things for women. After graduating from high school, Burroughs attempted to become a teacher, but no school would hire an African-American woman. After many endeavors to find a job other than domestic service, Burroughs took a position as corresponding secretary of the Women's Convention Auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention from 1900 to 1909. She became a tireless advocate for women and devoted her life to issues surrounding women's education and personal development.

Creation of the Observance

In 1906 Burroughs proposed the creation of Women's Day to the Baptist Convention leadership as a way of remedying the exclusion of women from participating in most church activities.

At that time, the main goal of the Women's Convention Auxiliary was to raise money for foreign missionary work. Burroughs envisioned the national Women's Day as a focused fundraising project in support of that goal. In order to raise awareness among women and get them interested in participating in Women's Day, Burroughs wanted to create a program of prayer, worship, music, and inspirational speeches. These program materials were to be distributed to local churches for the purpose of energizing women in the congregation. Burroughs believed that women were an untapped resource within the church, and that they could be just as successful as men in the areas of public speaking, motivation, fundraising, and informed leadership. After some discussion, the National Baptist Convention approved Burroughs's plan and she proceeded to organize materials for Women's Day.

On the last Sunday in July 1907, the first Women's Day observance was held in Nashville, Tennessee. Women's Day quickly grew in popularity, and many churches began observing the day using the materials created by Burroughs. These Women's Day events marked the first time that women had been allowed to speak in Baptist churches, and many took advantage of the opportunity. Early Women's Day events included groups of women who went from church to church, speaking to the congregation at each location and soliciting donations to support foreign missionary work. Significant funds were raised in support of the various missionary programs sponsored by the national Baptist church.

The focus of Women's Day has evolved since the first observances took place in the early 1900s. The day has become important as a time to honor women in the congregation and acknowledge the many contributions made by women in all areas of life. AfricanAmerican churches still use the day to raise money for charitable causes, but many have expanded the focus of Women's Day to include social and educational programs of interest to women.

Observances

Churches observe Women's Day in many different ways. Some churches bring in visiting speakers or preachers, usually women, to deliver a special sermon on that day. Others provide an afternoon luncheon or tea honoring the women of the congregation, or a special mother-daughter event is held. Still other churches plan elaborate daylong programs in honor of Women's Day, sometimes held at a local restaurant or banquet facility instead of at the church itself. These programs provide women with an opportunity to get away from their normal routines for a day of relaxation, fun, and spiritual renewal. Women's Day observances such as these usually include guest speakers, workshops and seminars, health education, and sometimes even fashion shows.

The date, location, and schedule for Women's Day celebrations are determined by individual churches. Although Women's Day was originally observed in late July, churches now designate different days throughout the year as Women's Day. Activities related to Women's Day continue to be successful fundraisers. Many church leaders also credit the day with expanding the opportunities available for women in leadership positions within the church.

Further Reading

"African American Religious Leaders." New York Public Library African American Desk Reference . New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. Gantt, Alice. "Women's Day." Black Congregational Ministries Committee, National Council of Churches USA, October 1995. . Smith, Jesse Carney. Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events. 2nd ed., revised and expanded. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press, 2003.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007
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