Original Mother’s Day Was An Antiwar Protest

Mother’s Day started as a call for women to organize for world peace.

Julia Ward Howe, a feminist, abolitionist and writer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” issued the first Mother’s Day proclamation in 1870 following the devastation caused by the American Civil War and the start of the Franco-Prussian war in Europe.

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She was influenced by Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, an Appalachian woman who had tried to improve public sanitation through what she called Mothers' Work Days. Jarvis even organized women during the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and after the war worked to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors. (In fact, many women actively organized through unions and reform organizations in the decades before 1920 when a constitutional amendment granted them the right to vote.)

Howe called for a national Mother’s Day for Peace every June 2, a time for women of all nations to come together to take action to prevent future wars. The holiday was celebrated in some cities unofficially for a while. In 1914, following an intense campaign by Ann Jarvis’ daughter Anna to establish a holiday honoring mothers, President Wilson declared the second Sunday in May Mother’s Day, but did not include Howe’s antiwar message. Europe was entering The Great War  and the U.S. public was being urged to join  in. Despite Jarvis’s protests, the holiday soon became an occasion for businesses to encourage American consumers to buy their mothers gifts, cards and restaurant meals.  Read Howe’s proclamation below, and honor your mother by reviving her vision – join your local peace organization or see Women’s Action for New Direction’s Action Center at http://www.wandactioncenter.org.  You can also send her a creative e-card from Strong Families at http://www.mamasday.org/

MOTHER’S DAY PROCLAMATION, 1870

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or 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 taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another 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 solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesars 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

Introduction by Barbara Joye, member, Metro Atlanta DSA and the DSA National Political Committee