Most of us think of Mothers’ Day as a kind of conventional holiday that celebrates traditional family values; the kind of traditional values that encourage women who are mothers to keep on keeping on. But celebrating the traditional motherhood is definitely not what Mothers’ Day was originally intended for. The very first Mothers’ Day was intended to be a celebration not just of mothers, but rather it was designed to be a call to action by all women.
One of the first founders of Mother’s Day was Anna Jarvis back in 1858. Anna Jarvis gathered women of the Appalachian mountains together in what she called mother’s day work clubs. Where women worked together to eliminate poverty. When the Civil War came about, the mother’s day work clubs created medical camps. They were places of nonviolence for men from both sides who were wounded in the war.
At the end of the Civil War, Anna Jarvis organized the Mother’s Day Friendship Day, which was a call for radical peace. Anna Jarvis brought together the leaders from the north and the south for a time of reconciliation. Mother’s Day was originally about reconciliation and peace.
Then along came a woman named, Julia Ward Howe who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Julia Ward Howe called for women to protest the cruelties of war everywhere and to gather together to call for peace. She called for a national day of peace for all women. She issued women’s’ declaration, and from the streets women shouted :
“Arise then women of this day, arise all women who have hearts, say firmly our husbands shall not come to us reeking with the carnage for caresses and applause. Arise women of peace.”
Anna Jarvis’ daughter also named Anna Jarvis approached President Wilson and petitioned for a national Mother’s Day. It was Woodrow Wilson who called for the second Sunday of May to be the national Mother’s Day. Shortly thereafter, n anti-suffragette movement spoke out against the women who were calling for peace. So instead of being a day for women who were active and present in the world, it became a day to celebrate mothers who stayed at home with the children.
Anna Jarvis the founder of Mother’s Day was so angry with Woodrow Wilson that she filed a law suit, that petitioned the courts to put a stop to Mother’s Day because as the court papers insisted, instead of it being run by women, suddenly Mother’s Day was being run by men in an effort to keep them in the house barefoot and pregnant.
Sadly, the world was not ready for such strong willed women to shout out loud. And so, Anna Jarvis was arrested at a Mother’s Day celebration and she spent the rest of her life in a sanatorium?
On mothers’ day we would all do well to remember Julia Ward Howe’s Mothers’ Day Proclamation. Dated 1870 but sadly it is still so very relevant today:
“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or 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 taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another 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 not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often 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 & 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 Caesars 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.”