Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day in History

"Mother's Day" in the late-19th century was an an anti-war protest. Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, wrote a Mother's Day Proclamation in 1870. It reads, in part:

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 betaken 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."
The rest is here.

According to Ruth Rosen,

The story [of Mother's Day] 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 persuade men to lay aside their hostilities.
In 1872, Julia Ward Howe, author of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic", proposed an annual Mother's Day for Peace....For the next 30 years, Americans celebrated Mothers' Day for Peace on June 2.
More from Rosen is here (scroll down).

Valarie Ziegler, author of Diva Julia: The Public Romance and Private Agony of Julia Ward Howe, was interviewed by Amy Goodman about Howe and Mother's Day in May 2005, on Democracy Now. She addresses the tension between Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation and The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which celebrated war.
I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
According to Ziegler, Howe "was absolutely committed to the Civil War." In The Battle Hymn, Howe was "asking people to devote themselves even to the last measure to get rid of slavery. So slavery was an important cause for her. Peace and women’s rights was also an important cause, and I mean, she clearly changed methods."
In a Slate essay, Soap to Ploughshares: How to return Mother's Day to its original meaning, Ruth Rosen discusses the way Mother's Day became the cards-and-flowers holiday we are now familiar with. Hat tip. Even non-profits capitalize on Mother's Day. But Rosen argues that
it is anti-war organizations like the Ploughshares Fund that return us to the original meaning of Mother's Day. Ploughshares has always promoted peace. Its current e-mail asks you to sign a declaration for Ground Zero, a campaign to create a nuclear-free world. In making this request, Ploughshares urges, "After all, what better way to honor our mothers than to return to the holiday's original purpose. … Reclaim the true meaning of Mother's Day, and leave a peaceful legacy to our children."