Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day as a Celebration for Peace

I did as most people in the U.S. did, that is celebrate Mother's Day with my mother.  I traveled to my mother's home, brought her flowers and took her to dinner. Every time I visit with her, I learn something new about who she is, what she wants, and what she sees as her life moving forward. Though my father died last December, she is still a vibrant woman who loves life. At age 82 she still has that openness and agility to accept whatever life may bring her way. I must admit I admire that immensely.

Mothers Day as we know it today was founded in 1908 by Anna Jarvis who wished to commemorate the memory of her mother through small rituals performed in church and in towns. She later wanted to expand it across the U.S. What propelled the celebration forward was getting the financial backing of John Wanamaker, a wealthy Philadelphia department store owner. It took years of campaigning, until 1914 when Presidentt Woodrow Wilson finally signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Soon after Wilson's signing, commercialization of the holiday became the norm and, in later life, Anna Jarvis tried to get the day removed from the calendar because it had morphed into such commercialization that she no longer believed it served the purpose she had conceived.

Julia Ward Howe

However, I would like to talk about an earlier idea for the celebration which was initiated in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette. Her idea for an official celebration of Mother's Day in the U.S. was not as a day for exchanging cards, going out to dinner, or sending flowers--not even as a day of memory for mothers. But rather it was a day asking all women to exercise their moral and political responsibility and stand up for peace. She exhorted them to use their minds and will to find a way to stop war by convening an international congress of women to actively look for ways to bring peace.

Howe, also a poet, was the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic used in The Civil War. She was devastated by all the death and destruction of the war and wrote a passionate appeal to women, popularly called the Mother's Day Proclamation.  She requested that June 2nd be the designated day of the international congress of women. Unfortunately, this day was celebrated most in Boston each year and did not ever have a chance to become an official holiday. As you can imagine, in 1870 women were still not allowed to vote and held little power. Yet, I marvel at her belief and consistent activism in trying to make a difference.

In reading her proclamation I can hear her voice bemoaning the carnage of war, and her belief that women had both the political and moral responsibility to stand up and find a way to stop it.


Here are her words:

Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.

Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly : 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. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate 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 council.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place 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. 

—Julia Ward Howe
 Julia Ward Howe (September 1870), "Appeal to womanhood throughout the world.", An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera (Library of Congress)


Today many women still celebrate Mother's Day with a march for peace. As we continue to live in separateness from one another--to not understand or even try to understand other races, cultures, belief systems, then I fear we will continue to support violence.

I believe that woman around the world have more reason than ever to make a difference and have the unique ability to do so. I do pray that one day we do find a way to stop war.