Happy Mother’s Day! I did a little research into the history and traditions of Mother’s day – which did not start as a hallmark holiday but as a call for peace and political action to promote peace. In the United States, the origins of the official holiday go back to 1870, when Julia Ward Howe – an abolitionist best remembered as the poet who wrote “Battle Hymn of the Republic” – worked to establish a Mother’s Peace Day. Howe’s “An Appeal to Womanhood” was a pacifist reaction to the carnage of the American Civil War. The appeal was tied to Howe’s feminist conviction that women had a responsibility to shape their societies at the political level.
In 1907, Anna Jarvis, of Philadelphia, began the campaign to have Mother’s Day officially recognized, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson did this, proclaiming it a national holiday and a “public expression of our love and reverence for all mothers.” Quite a shift from Howe’s original sentiments.
Today’s commercialized celebration of candy, flowers, gift certificates, and lavish meals at restaurants bears little resemblance to Howe’s original idea. There is nothing wrong with that. However, the roots of this particular holiday are in the Christian Peace movements, and I think that is important to note, honor, celebrate and remember. So here, for the record’s sake and in an effort to ground this day in its spiritual roots, is the proclamation Julia Ward Howe wrote in 1870, which explains, in her own impassioned words, the goals of the original holiday.
“An Appeal to Womanhood throughout the World”
(later known as “Mother’s Day Proclamation”)
written in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
whether your baptism be that of water or of tears!
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
our husbands shall 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 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 the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
“Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow 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 then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace,
each learning after his own time,
the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.
Wow – that might change your mother’s day plans a bit!