Mother's Day was originally started after the Civil War, as a protest to
the carnage of that war, by women who had lost their sons. Here is the
original Mother's Day Proclamation from 1870, followed by a bit of
history (or should I say "herstory"):
Mothers' Day Proclamation: Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1870
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether
our baptism be that of water or of fears!
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
Blood does not wipe our 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
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
their own time 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
Mother's Day for Peace - by Ruth Rosen.
Honor Mother with Rallies in the Streets.The holiday began in activism;
it needs rescuing from commercialism and platitudes.
Every year, people snipe at the shallow commercialism of Mother's Day.
But to ignore your mother on this holy holiday is unthinkable. And if
you are a mother, you'll be devastated if your ingrates fail to honor
you at least one day of the year.
Mother's Day wasn't always like this. The women who conceived Mother's
Day would be bewildered by the ubiquitous ads that hound us to find that
"perfect gift for Mom." They would expect women to be marching in the
streets, not eating with their families in restaurants. This is because
Mother's Day began as a holiday that commemorated women's public
activism, not as a celebration of a mother's devotion to her family.
The story begins in 1858 when a community activist named Anna Reeves
Jarvis organized Mothers' Works Days in West Virginia. Her immediate
goal was to improve sanitation in Appalachian communities. During the
Civil War, Jarvis pried women from their families to care for the
wounded on both sides.
Afterward she convened meetings to persuale men to lay aside their
In 1872, Juulia Ward Howe, author of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic",
proposed an annual Mother's Day for Peace. Committed to abolishing war,
wrote: "Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage... 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".
For the next 30 years, Americans celebrated Mothers' Day for Peace on
Many middle-class women in the 19th century believed that they bore a
special responsibility as actual or potential mothers to care for the
casualties of society and to turn America into a more civilized nation.
They played a leading role in the abolitionist movement to end slavery.
In the following decades, they launched successful campaigns against
lynching and consumer fraud and battled for improved working conditions
for women and protection for children, public health services and social
welfare assistance to the poor.
To the activists, the connection between motherhood and the fight for
social and economic justice seemed self-evident.
In 1913, Congress declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother's Day.
By then, the growing consumer culture had successfully redefined women
as consumers for their families. Politicians and businessmen eagerly
enbraced the idea of celebrating the private sacrifices made by
individual mothers. As the Florists' Review, the industry's trade
jounal, bluntly put it, "This was a holiday that could be exploited."
The new advertising industry quickly taught Americans how to honor their
mothers - by buying flowers. Outraged by florists who were seling
carnations for the exorbitant price of $1 apeice, Anna Jarvis' duaghter
undertook a campaging against those who "would undermine Mother's Day
with their greed."
But she fought a losing battle. Within a few years, the Florists'
Review triumphantly announced that it was "Miss Jarvis who was
Since then, Mother's Day has ballooned into a billion-dollar industry.
Americans may revere the idea of motherhood and love their own mothers,
but not all mothers. Poor, unemployed rmothers may enjoy flowers, but
they also need child care, job training, health care, a higher minimum
wage and paid parental leave. Working mothers may enjoy breakfast in
bed, but they also need the kind of governmental assistance provided by
every other industrialized society.
With a little imagination, we could restore Mother's Day as a holiday
that celebrates women's political engagement in society. During the
1980's, some peace groups gathered at nuclear test sites on Mother's Day
to protest the arms race. Today, our greatest threat is not from
missilies but from our indifference toward human welfare and the health
of our planet. Imagine, if you can, an annual Million Mother March in
the nation's capital. Imagine a Mother's Day filled with voices
demanding social and economic justice and a sustainable future, rather
than speeches studded with syrupy platitudes.
Some will think it insulting to alter our current way of celebrating
Mother's Day. But public activism does not preclude private expressions
of love and gratitude. (Nor does it prevent people from expressing their
appreciation all year round.)
Nineteenth century women dared to dream of a day that honored women's
civil activism. We can do no less. We should honor their vision with
Ruth Rosen is a professor of history at UC Davis.
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