The Truth About Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday! In honor of this, we’d like to share with you Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation which was sent to us the other day by Barbra Harrison, a Women’s Center Director from the ’80s, via Lee Sennish! (Thanks to both of these wonderful women!)

Mother’s Day originated after the Civil War, as a form of protest regarding the death and destruction of the war, by women who had lost their sons. Mother’s Day was created in 1858 by a community activist named Anna Reeves Jarvis. Jarvis organized Mothers’ Works Days in West Virginia, with the goal of improving sanitation in Appalachian communities of West Virginia. During the Civil War, Jarvis and other women left their families to care for the wounded on both sides. Jarvis also spent her time during the war as a peacemaker, calling together meetings to try and convince men on both sides to end the fighting.

In 1872, Julia Ward Howe proposed an annual National Mother’s Day for Peace. This is the original proclimation that she issued:

Arise then…women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts!

Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!

“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,

For caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn

All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We, the women of one country,

Will be too tender of those of another country

To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with

Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

Blood does not wipe out dishonor,

Nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil

At the summons of war,

Let women now leave all that may be left of home

For a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means

Whereby the great human family can live in peace…

Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,

But of God –

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask

That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,

May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient

And the earliest period consistent with its objects,

To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,

The amicable settlement of international questions,

The great and general interests of peace.

Americans celebrated Mothers’ Day for Peace on June 2 for thirty years after this proclamation. In 1913 Congress declared that the second Sunday in May would be Mother’s Day.Many activists mark this proclamation as the turning point where Mother’s Day became commercialized and focused on honoring mothers through gifts and fancy meals (consumer goods) rather than through activism and the pursuit of peace.

Personally, I would love to reclaim Mother’s Day for Peace by keeping this activist perspective firmly in mind this Sunday. I play to talk with my family (at Mother’s Day Brunch) about the origins of this holiday and what it means, as a start in reclaiming it. I also plan to make a donation to the activist organization of my mother’s choice as a means of reclaiming those roots. What do you think?

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