Julia Ward Howe, the original advocate for an annual “Mother’s Day” holiday, had seen how the Civil War devastated soldiers, their families, and their loved ones. The suffering she saw motivated her to call for women to stand together and engage the world as an organized force for peace. In 1870, she began to organize women to petition Congress to end all wars. It was Howe who called for a day dedicated to peace to be celebrated in the spring: Mother’s Day.
Howe and her compatriots would likely be bewildered by the modern version of Mother’s Day, with its emphasis on flowers, gifts, and Sunday brunch. They’d likely also be disappointed by the continuation and escalation of war as a tool for resolving conflict in the modern world. Indeed, one can only begin to imagine what Howe and other 19th century peace activists would say about America’s current trajectory, with its global war on terror, its wars of choice that cause widespread death and injury, and its spending priorities (we devote most of our federal discretionary budget to war & militarism year after year, at a time of deep economic suffering).
This Sunday, let’s ask ourselves how we can, in some small way, honor the original vision of Mother’s Day as a day of peace and a day of action…and then go out into the world and make our voices heard this Mother’s Day, and every day.
Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation began:
“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our 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…”