The Roots of Mother’s Day: Protest and Pacifism

The Roots of Mother’s Day: Protest and Pacifism May 8, 2016
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Arise Then, Women of This Day

When most people think of Mother’s Day, they may think of roses, champagne brunches, “mother’s rings,” and a visit to mom’s place. While the idea of family togetherness is a lovely sentiment, there was a different, and perhaps even deeper, original meaning to the beginning of Mother’s Day: it was created as an opportunity to stand against war.

The observation of Mother’s Day emerged during a potent period of American history; the Civil War. The only war to have been declared and fought on American soil, the American Civil War destroyed lives, tore apart families and communities, and a divided a country. The response to the bloodshed on the part of many American women of the time was to call for an end to war.

No solitary woman can be credited with the beginning of a movement toward the Mother’s Day holiday, but every thread that ties itself into the entangled roots of the emergence of Mother’s Day is ultimately the same. It was a celebration of motherhood, by mothers, and about the largest gift a mother ever gives her child: the gift of life.

Here is the first stanza of a piece of writing called The Mothers’ Day Proclamation written by Julia Ward Howe, a feminist and abolitionist, in 1870.

“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, 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 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 Mother’s Day Proclamation is full of thoughts as radical and as relevant today as they were over a hundred years ago when it was written. To this day, not enough has changed; mothers are raising sons and daughters who are being lead to the front lines to wage war between cultures not yet at a point of understanding one another.

This year, as you thank your mother for your life, or your baby-mama for the life of your children, take some time to reflect on the contributions mothers have made the world over. Remember that some mother half the world away gave her child the gift of life too.

May the true meaning of Mother’s Day come finally to pass.

“…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…”

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