In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, best known as the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", called for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national boundaries, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts. She issued her "Mother's Day Proclamation" (see below) hoping to gather together women to act for peace.
She failed in her attempt to get formal recognition of a Mother's Day for Peace. The call was influenced by Anna Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker who had attempted starting in 1858 what she called Mothers' Work Days to improve sanitary conditions for both sides of the Civil war. In 1868 Jarvis also began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors. When she died, her daughter, also named Anna Jarvis, started her own crusade to found a memorial day for women. The first such Mother's Day was celebrated in West Virginia in 1907 in the church where the elder Anna Jarvis had taught Sunday School. And from there the custom caught on -- spreading eventually to 45 states. Finally the holiday was declared officially by states beginning in 1912, and in 1914 the President, Woodrow Wilson, declared the first national Mother's Day.
Soon after the first official Mother's Day, the commercialization of Mother's Day became rampant and infuriated Anna Jarvis and she made her criticisms explicitly known. She criticized the practice of purchasing greeting cards, which she saw as a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter. She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against the commercialization of Mother's Day, and she finally said that she "wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control ...".
So let's bring this day back to its original purpose by honoring our mothers simply and basically with our presence and sincere caring, and by working for peace and justice so that children and mothers do not die prematurely from violence or poverty or become separated through unjust laws.
THE MOTHER'S DAY PROCLAMATION
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
"We will not have great questions decided 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 the 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 at 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.
Photos: Julia Ward Howe; Anna Jarvis -- mother and daughter