Mothers’ Day has become a great day for florists, card shops, and those who sell lotions, perfumes, and other gifts to “pamper mom”. And don’t get me wrong who doesn’t love flowers, and I’m all about chocolate. Yet the origins of the day run far deeper.
Anna Reeves Jarvis and the women who originally celebrated Mother’s Day saw it as an opportunity to use their status as mothers to protest violence and injustice. In 1858, Anna Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Work Days in West Appalachian communities to protest the lack of sanitation and advocate for workers rights. During the Civil War, Jarvis urged women to care for the wounded – no matter which both side they fought for, and afterward she spoke out encouraging all men to stop the violence.
The movement took up momentum when in 1870 Julia Ward Howe a suffragist, abolitionist, pacifist and writer in Boston called for a special day for mothers to oppose war. Motivated by her witness of the bloody civil war she dreamed of the establishment of an international Mothers’ Day Festival dedicated to the cause of nonviolent resolution of conflict and international solidarity among all women.
Her “Mothers’ Day Proclamation” a testament to her witness to war and commitment to ending it.
Our husbands will 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, the 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 voice 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 our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate 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 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 Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask – That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And 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.
Mothers’ Day Proclamation: Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1870
For approximately 30 years Mothers’ day was celebrated on June 2nd as an day of activism. It was honored as a day to commit to nonviolence and an end to wars. In 1914 – four years after Julia Ward Howe’s death – president Woodrow Wilson capitalized on the success of the movement she, Reeves Jarvis and others had started when he declared the “first national mother’s day:”
Now, Therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the said Joint Resolution, do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodrow_Wilson)
Sadly, yet not surprising Wilson left out the true spirit of Mothers’ day. Neglecting to mention the spirit of international cooperation and solidarity, ignoring the hard won victories for improved working conditions, protection for children and improvements in sanitation and social welfare. Wilson left out of his proclamation a tribute the ongoing struggles to put an end to lynching, to militarism and other violence
And so today, if you really want to honor mom – in the true spirit of mothers day – get out of the florist and into the streets. March. Rally. Write letters. Support unions that support women.
Yes, unemployed mothers may enjoy flowers, and they also need child care, health care . Mom’s living in poverty might love lotion and perfume. At the same time, what they really need is a living wage. Most mothers I know who also work outside the home might enjoy some chocolate and might love breakfast in bed, and they also need parental leave, and to know their children won’t feel forced to join the military because school is too expensive.
Feel the need to give a gift? – how about a donation in mom’s name to a group working to improve the lives of all women and make this world a bit more peaceful and just?
We can create a Mothers’ Day filled with voices demanding justice and peace. Imagine a Mothers day honoring the work of women all creating a more sustainable future.
After all, the origins of the day demand it. And don’t we owe it to all mothers to make the world a more just and peaceful place for their children?