One of Ola Richards’ family gatherings in Poland; probably Easter brunch. (From L-R) Ola Richards’ great-grandmother : Stanislawa Kuczynska, her grandmother Bozena Marciniak, Ola Richards and her mother: Anna Palenik. (Photo courtesy of Ola Richards)

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. Although it’s not always celebrated in the U.S. dozens of other countries have been celebrating it for decades. In Petersburg, several women come from these countries—like Ola Richards from Poland and Elisa Teodori from Italy. KFSK’s Angela Denning spoke with them about the holiday and has this story:

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland. That’s two years after women in America started celebrating a national day for women.

In many countries the international day kept going and was celebrated throughout the decades. Ola Richards remembers the holiday growing up in Poland.

“Oh, yeah, Poland is huge about Women’s Day,” Richards said. “It’s a huge deal.”

They called it Women’s Day for short, says Richards. She says women didn’t get the day off work but they were recognized. She remembers the boys giving their female teachers a flower on March 8th.

“Just to recognize them as a hard working woman,” she said.

Richards says it’s different than getting flowers for Valentine’s Day because it’s not romantic in nature. It’s also different than Mother’s Day. She says it’s to celebrate women; people like her mother who was a single, working woman. Richards says her mom received flowers for the holiday every March 8th.

“It was like a special day coming home with a bunch of flowers and they were not flowers from some boyfriend, they were just flowers from men who worked with her or you know, a neighbor,” Richards said. “It’s very important to understand that it’s nothing about love. It’s about respect; about appreciation.”

Richards’ mother worked at an outdoors program taking teenagers into the wild hiking and camping. Usually, Richards went along too out of necessity.

“She’s my hero,” said Richards. “You know, single mom with two kids and she got her education and now she’s a business owner and she’s so independent, and I’m like, ‘Good for you, Mom!’”

Richards came to the United States in her early twenties to work at the cannery through a student visa, known as J-One. She ended up falling in love and marrying a local, Brian Richards, and moved to Petersburg permanently. She noticed that International Women’s Day wasn’t celebrated here.

Petersburg resident, Elisa Teodori, noticed the same thing when she moved to Petersburg out of love for her husband, Tor Benson.

Elisa Teodori grew up in Italy and remembers celebrating International Women’s Day. She moved to Petersburg seven years ago to be with her husband, Tor Benson. (Photo courtesy of Elisa Teodori)

Teodori grew up in Italy where they also celebrated March 8th. She wasn’t exactly aware that it was an international holiday. She thought it was just a national day for Italy.

“We call it The Celebration of Women in Italy,” Teodori said.

Teodori says for the holiday women will often receive mimosa flowers, which are yellow flowers that bloom early in the spring.

“It’s traditional that men in family or friends give a bouquet of these flowers to their women,” she said. “Even in school I remember our classmates, the boys, bringing to us and to the teachers, flowers.”

Like Richards, Teodori says the holiday is different than Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Italy has those other holidays too.

“This is just for women to celebrate all the steps, the milestones that were taken by women along history, like the right to vote, the right for abortion, the right to divorce and even just the right to be considered an independent person from the men,” said Teodori.

She says the March 8th holiday encourages girls, when they’re old enough, to go out and celebrate with their girlfriends.

“Just with women,” said Teodori. “So it would be an occasion to be just with your girlfriends.”

Teodori says gender equality is still changing in Italy. She says in some areas, practices still exist like not allowing young women to go out unaccompanied by a male family member or the belief that women have to do all the house chores and take care of the children.

“When I go visit Italy, I was talking to an aunt of mine; she was old and I was telling her that I let my husband wash the dishes,” said Teodori. “And she looked at me shocked and she told me, ‘Shame on you! Aren’t you embarrassed of doing this?!’ (laughs) And that was just my grandparents generation!”

Teodori says it would be nice for the U.S. to celebrate International Women’s Day if people keep in mind the reason for it. It’s not just about giving flowers, it’s also about remembering the women who didn’t have rights not that long ago.

“It’s easy to forget, generation after generation the more you go away from those hard times that the women fought for what they got,” Teodori said.

But it might take a while to really take off in the U.S. Richards says it’s become sort of a joke with her husband. She explains their annual conversation like this:

“Being married to an America boy–it’s so funny–every year in March, [I say], ‘Brian, it’s March 5th, you know what is coming.’

‘I don’t know.’

‘In three days, there’s Women’s Day.’

‘Ugh, what do I have to do again?’

Every year I have to remind him.” (laughs)

This year in Petersburg, Working Against Violence for Everyone or WAVE is planning an online event as a way to recognized local women. And maybe it will be the start of a new annual celebration.

KFSK and WAVE will host an international Women’s Day call-in show this morning (March 8) from 10 to 10:30 when people can call in and recognize important women in their lives. That number is 772-3808.

WAVE will be hosting an online chat about International Women’s Day March 8 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. To see the details, check out the event on Facebook. Here is the link for the online chat.