What Is Women's Equality Day and Why Is It Celebrated?

Women's Equality Day is observed annually in the U.S. on August 26.

It has been celebrated since 1971 and the date was selected to commemorate the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in 1920.

On August 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of the amendment's passage and a year before the first Women's Equality Day, the Women's Strike for Equality March saw 50,000 women walk down New York City's Fifth Avenue, linking arms and blocking traffic.

Some carried signs with slogans like "Don't iron while the strike is hot."

The event was officially sponsored by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and conceived by Betty Friedan, feminist author of The Feminine Mystique who originally had called for a national work stoppage.

The crowd were addressed by NOW's former president Friedan, writer Gloria Steinem and Democratic Representative Bella Abzug calling for free abortion on demand, equal employment and education opportunities, and access to 24-hour child care facilities.

Some demonstrators hung banners from the Statue of Liberty while others stopped the American Stock Exchange ticker.

Women's Strike for Equality New York 1970
Demonstrators march down New York City's Fifth Avenue during the Women's Strike for Equality in 1970 Eugene Gordon/Getty Images

Associated demonstrations took place in other cities, with 1,000 women marching in Washington, D.C.

Across cities like Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston, New Orleans, and Berkeley, California, many activists employed a range of tactics to grab attention, from infiltrating all-male bars to holding sit-ins and picketing.

Joyce Antler, a historian who participated in the demonstration, told TIME in 2015 that many of those who participated had also been active in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the previous decade.

"We marched throughout the '60s and we had faith that this mattered," she said.

The day of action marked the first time that The New York Times had covered the feminist movement and demonstrated the breadth of support for women's rights in the U.S.

It is credited with helping secure the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment by Congress, though it still has yet to secure final ratification.

A year after the strike, in 1971, August 26 was officially recognized as Women's Equality Day by Congress, commemorating the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

This year, New York Governor Kathy Hochul acknowledged the state's contribution to the feminist movement and called it "home to the Women's Rights Movement where pioneers went above and beyond to forge a path toward freedom for women across the world."

In a statement Hochul, who is the first female governor of the state, revealed plans to illuminate New York landmarks in purple and gold—the colors of the women's suffrage movement.

In total, 13 spots will be lit up including One World Trade Center, Albany International Airport Gateway, and Niagara Falls.

Hochul continued: "I hope to send a message to women and girls everywhere that they can be anything they want to be. This Women's Equality Day, I encourage everyone to look toward the glass ceiling and shatter it—though women have come so far, we still have a way to go."

Women's Strike for Equality New York 1970
Demonstrators march in New York City during 1970's Women's Strike for Equality Eugene Gordon/Getty Images