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The original women’s march took place in Philly 20 years ago

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Hundreds of thousands took to the Parkway

The Million Woman March took place in Philadelphia in 1997, drawing hundreds of thousands of women to Philly’s streets.
The Million Woman March took place in Philadelphia in 1997, drawing hundreds of thousands of women to Philly’s streets.
AP Photo/Chris Gardner

This Saturday, a day after the Inauguration, thousands of women and men alike will take to their respective streets to protest the incoming Trump administration and protect their “civil liberties, civil rights, and equality.” About U.S. 150 cities, including Philly, are taking part in the Women’s March, with the main event being held in Washington, D.C.

But in light of the many protests scheduled, it’s worth remembering that the whole idea of women marching in solidarity began two decades ago right here in Philadelphia at the Million Woman March.

An aerial view of the Million Woman March in Philadelphia, as thousands of women marched along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
AP Photo/George Widman

In 1997, two local grass-roots activists had the little idea to organize a march as a way to shed light on the good, the bad, and the ugly that black women were facing at that time, issues they thought were largely ignored by mainstream women’s groups. The day-long event on a rainy Saturday on October 25 involved moments of prayer, musical performances, and multiple speeches by local community organizers and civil rights activists.

Despite little star power or preparation—this was years before Facebook or social media could spread word like wildfire—the little idea turned into a massive event. It drew hundreds of thousands—estimates range from 500,000 up to 2.1 million—of women to Philly, marching in solidarity from the Liberty Bell and to the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps.

The march stretched from the Liberty Bell down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
AP Photo/Chris Lane

Despite its surprising success, the event didn’t make headlines again until recently, when a grandmother from Hawaii decided to create the Million Woman March in D.C. the day after the Inauguration. After some argued that the name diverted from the original event in Philly, the organizers changed this year’s protest march name to the Women’s March on Washington.

It’s been 20 years since the original Million Woman March took over Philly’s streets. But on Saturday, January 21, history may repeat itself when an estimated 20,000 people take the Benjamin Franklin Parkway once again to fight for women’s rights.