Did you know that Mother’s Day in North America was originally envisioned to be a day to celebrate motherhood and peace?
Julia Ward Howe, a prominent American abolitionist, suffragist, poet, and author of the famous Civil War-era song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” nursed and tended the wounded during the US Civil War and assisted the widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides afterwards. The carnage she witnessed and the realization that the terrible consequences of war go far beyond the deaths of soldiers in battle deeply touched her. She called out for women to “rise up through the ashes and devastation,” and urged a Mother’s Day dedicated to peace. Her advocacy continued as she saw war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War.
She wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 calling on all mothers to come together to end the futility of their sons killing one another. She envisioned a day for women from all over the world to meet and discuss ways to achieve— no joke— “world peace.
With her passionate plea for peace, Howe planted the seed that would blossom into the holiday we celebrate the first Sunday of May, though it would take 44 years and the campaigning of another activist, Anna Jarvis, before President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday in 1914. By the mid-20th century, a version of Mother’s Day had spread to over forty countries and today is celebrated in over 70 worldwide.
Mother’s Day has lost its early intention as a call for peace. As wars continue to rage around the world and many of our own communities are torn apart by violence, this occasion can be a time for reflection and rededication to Howe’s original call. There could be no better way to honor mothers.
Here is a portion of Howe’s proclamation:
“Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts…
We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs…
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 interests of peace.”
Sources: The Peace Alliance, peacealliance.org, and A Mighty Girl Facebook Page