What’s in a date?

Posted by on May 8, 2017 in Blog, History, Women's equality issues | 2 comments

calendar/Bryan Kennedy/flickr

Now I do realise that the title of this blog could be taken to refer to a number of quite discrete themes. I could be about to hold forth on the beneficial properties of eating the fruit of the date palm.  Apparently, dates are rich in dietary fibre, they replenish energy and revitalise the body instantly, they are full of anti-oxidant flavonoids such as B-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, and of course an excellent source of iron, potassium, calcium, manganese, copper and magnesium.

But that’s not what this blog is about. ‘Aha’, I hear you say, ‘she’s writing about relationships, and is perhaps about to hold forth on the trials and tribulations of arranging a rendezvous with a potential partner, who may have been found through one of the myriad of apps available, or even as a result of meeting someone at a party or club’.  At least that’s what we did in my day.

Nope, that’s not it either. I’m actually thinking of how just one day in the calendar can mean many things – or nothing – to different people.  December 25th is a big event where I come from, but just another day in China.  In Morocco, November 18th is Independence Day, so a national holiday there, but a date I usually pass over without paying much attention.

This week sees May 9th.  Now that date resonates with me for personal, historical and feminist reasons. Firstly, it was my brother’s birthday, so I have many happy childhood memories associated with this time of the year.  Secondly, across Russia and former Soviet bloc countries, this day marks Victory in World War II.  Some time after midnight on May 8th the Third Reich officially conceded defeat to the Soviet Union in Berlin, signing the German Instrument of Surrender.  This was formally announced to the Soviet people on the morning of May 9th, and it has been a national holiday in Russia and other countries in Eastern Europe ever since.

On the other side of the Atlantic, May 9th marked two occasions in the 20th century when the US  played host to developments that have had a profound effect on women.  The first event was in 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson responded to the campaign waged by social activist Anna Jarvis to nominate an official day for mothers in the US. On May 9th 1914 Wilson proclaimed the first Mother’s Day: a day when mothers and motherhood were celebrated, and the positive contributions mothers make to society in raising children were acknowledged.  Jarvis had worked tirelessly for this to be established, at a time when women’s rights were not  high on the [male] government’s agenda.

Later in the century, on May 9th 1960,  the US became the first country to legalise the use of the contraceptive pill, which had finally been passed by the Food and Drug Administration.  The idea of a drug to suppress ovulation was first promoted by Margaret Sanger, a pioneer in the field of birth control, who had opened the first birth control clinic in the US in 1916. The initial research and development funding was provided by heiress Katherine McCormick.

‘The pill’ heralded a new era for women in terms of their reproductive freedom, and paved the way for the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

One small footnote in history, which brings us back to the personal: in 1961, a year after its introduction in the US, ‘the pill’ became available on the NHS in the UK. My mother pioneered the setting up of birth control clinics in Ealing, West London, where we lived.  Her name does not appear in any history books, but she too played an invaluable part in supporting women’s ‘right to choose’.




  1. Another elegant, thoughtful and informative piece from Barbara…How lovely that your mother pioneered the setting up of birth control clinics, I didn’t know that…but then I didn’t know any of the other special reasons for remembering May 9th. It’s good to know that Mother’s Day was not just something dreamed up by card manufacturers.

    • Thanks Sandra, and I agree with you re Mother’s Day. Interesting too that both this and developments with the pill originated in the US..
      Dame B

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.