Mother’s Day has a reputation as a cheesy commercial holiday complete with flower bouquets, Hallmark cards, Godiva chocolate and Build-A-Bears. But, believe it or not, this holiday was actually founded as a radical feminist anti-war protest! Julia Ward Howe was an American abolitionist and social activist who began advocating for a mother’s day for peace in 1870. She was sickened by the destruction and carnage of the Civil & Franco-Prussian Wars and began thinking about what women could do to benefit humanity. Howe sought to find a way for women to express what she believed to be an innate motherly love for human beings. She believed that being a mother was an experience powerful enough to prevent any woman from wanting to watch her sons risk their lives to fight in a war. She aimed to provide an alternative female voice of peace and began holding anti-war conferences both in the United States and Britain. Beginning in 1872, she proclaimed every June 2nd as Mother’s Day for Peace, a day in which woman all over the world would come together and envision strategies for social change. The following is an excerpt from her Mother’s Day Proclamation:
“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have 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 to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’ From the bosom of a 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 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…”
Howe’s vision wasn’t recognized until decades later when Anna Jarvis picked up on this idea. Jarvis was also an active feminist who viewed homemaker’s rights as essential. She had recently lost her own mother who, like Howe, was active in women’s circles and adamantly believed that motherhood could be used as a healing tool, In her mother’s honor, Jarvis campaigned for almost a decade to dedicate a day of the year in order to honor the work of all mothers. She chose a Sunday because she wanted it to be a “holy” day rather than not a holiday, and the second Sunday in May because it was the anniversary of her own mother’s death. Appreciating one’s own mother was less radical than protesting war and this incarnation of Mother’s Day became a movement. Mother’s Day services soon began being held in all U.S. states and in 1914, President Wilson made it an official national holiday!
Jarvis quickly became fed up with the commercialization of a national Mother’s Day. She threatened major lawsuits and engaged in acts of protest for the rest of her life. Of course, Jarvis’ frustrations were and continue to be beyond reasonable. Still, while the holiday drastically deviated from the visions of Jarvis and Howe, the value of “women’s work” was elevated to a higher level than it had ever previously been. This helped to pave the way for countless strides improving the American conception of the labor of motherhood.
· “Julia Ward Howe: The Woman Behind Mother’s Day.” Interview by Amy Goodman
· Ivory Madison. “Mother’s Day for Peace: A Dramatic Reading of Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation.”
· The Ottowa Citizen. “Battling the Mother’s Day Monster.”
- by rachel, hoax #4