Mother's Day was not originally conceived as a consumer gimmick. It began
in 1870 as a rallying cry for mothers who lost husbands and sons in the
Civil War. Here is the original Mother's Day Proclamation, written in
Boston by Julia Ward Howe (yes, the same one who wrote the Battle Hymn of
the Republic; for more history, see below)
Mother's Day Proclamation
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears.
"We shall not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of 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 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 bearing after her 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 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 interest of peace.
Julia Ward Howe:
Beyond the Battle Hymn of the Republic
Mother's Day and Peace
Julia Ward Howe's accomplishments did not end with the writing of her famous
poem, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." As Julia became more famous, she
was asked to speak publicly more often. Her husband became less adamant that
she remain a private person, and while he never actively supported her
further efforts, his resistance eased.
She saw some of the worst effects of the war -- not only the death and
disease which killed and maimed the soldiers. She worked with the widows and
orphans of soldiers on both sides of the war, and realized that the effects
of the war go beyond the killing of soldiers in battle. She also saw the
economic devastation of the Civil War, the economic crises that followed the
war, the restructuring of the economies of both North and South.
In 1870, Julia Ward Howe took on a new issue and a new cause. Distressed by
her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the
two most important causes of the world (the other being equality in its many
forms) and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War,
she called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She
wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we
hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful
resolutions to conflicts. She issued a Declaration, hoping to gather
together women in a congress of action.
She failed in her attempt to get formal recognition of a Mother's Day for
Peace. Her idea was influenced by Anna Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker
who had attempted starting in 1858 to improve sanitation through what she
called Mothers' Work Days. She organized women throughout the Civil War to
work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began
work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors.
Anna Jarvis' daughter, also named Anna Jarvis, would of course have known of
her mother's work, and the work of Julia Ward Howe. Much later, when her
mother died, this second 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
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