The real story of Mother’s Day is beginning to be be recognized. What is so often thought of as a day to be nice to your mother has far more complexity, spirituality, and politics sewn into it than most contemporary people know. No matter how you slice it, the history of Mother’s Day is intimately connected to the grief borne by the mothers of the soldiers and casualties of the Civil War. We are only 150 years removed from the horror that was the War between the American States. Women and peace are at the heart of the acts that led to the establishment of Mother’s Day.
We honor our mothers, buy flowers, take mom out for a nice meal, but we might also want to spend a few minutes contemplating the efforts of our foremothers to create a world of peace and plenty. This is, after all, what all mothers want for their children. One of these days we should give that to them.
Anna Garvis’s mother, Ann Reeves Garvis, was one of the women of the mid-19th Century who worked to create good out of the evil of war and poverty. She and many other women held Mother’s Friendship Day gatherings after the Civil War to bring Union and Confederate families together to heal in a spirit of peace. Her daughter, Anna Garvis, successfully lobbied for official status for Mother’s Day. She lobbied to undo the status, unsuccessfully, when the holiday became commercialized and no longer resembled honor for the type of work her own mother and others of her mother’s generation toiled to achieve.
Julia Ward Howe
Julia Ward Howe was one of the women engaged in such peace-building activities after the Civil War. She wanted there to be an international gathering of women for peace and her proclamation, an Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World, now called the Mother’s Day Proclamation, is inspirational and has enjoyed a resurgence of recognition in these days of worldwide connection where information cannot long stay buried. The full text of the proclamation follows:
Appeal to womanhood throughout the world
Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.
Arise, then, Christian women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of 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 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. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough 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 council.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind 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
A popular, well-circulated, version of the Mother’s Day Proclamation omits the first paragraph, because “nice women do not discuss politics.” Yeah. Right. And the mention of Christianity is also often removed, probably to appeal to secular interests. I firmly believe that when edits are made to great and significant texts, the edits should be noted. For the sake of history, we cannot rewrite it, and should not rewrite what is remembered of it.