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Labor Day

Today is Labor Day in the United States, a time set aside each year to honor the contributions of American workers to building a free and prosperous society.

Over time, America transformed itself from a predominantly agricultural society into the world’s foremost economic power. American women played a critical role in that transformation. In doing so, they overcame the barriers of prejudice and discrimination faced by women in other parts of the world.

Among these heroines was Clara Barton. Born in 1821, she organized one of the first free schools in the U.S. state of New Jersey. Later, she went to Washington, D.C., where she became the first woman clerk employed by the U.S. Patent Office. During the American civil war from 1861 to 1865, Clara Barton organized volunteers, many of them women, to bring supplies and medical aid to thousands of wounded soldiers. She became known as the “angel of the battlefield.” After the war, she established the American Red Cross, a non-profit organization which provides disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

During the First World War from 1914 to 1918 and the Second World War from 1941 to 1945, American women workers made vital contributions in the armed forces and industry. These and other experiences eventually led, in 1963, to the Equal Pay Act, a national law requiring equal pay for women workers. A year later, the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

In the same spirit, the U.S. supports efforts by women in other nations to achieve basic rights, including the right to fair treatment in the workplace. One prominent example is Afghanistan. There, the U.S. is working with Afghan authorities and non-governmental organizations to help provide education, job training, and employment opportunities for Afghan women.

Today, American women are admired for their pluck and savvy in both the workplace and the political arena. President George W. Bush points out that American women “are leaders in medicine, law, journalism, business, government, and other professions.” The work of American women, he says, “is essential to the strength and vitality of our country.”

The preceding was an editorial reflecting American ideals and institutions.