The Roots of Mother’s Day


As we prepare for Mother’s Day, here’s my message: the origins of Mother’s Day are not with breakfast in bed or a corsage or a greeting card. Mother’s Day began as a political cry for peace.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, mother of six, wrote “The Mother’s Day Proclamation for Peace.”

Howe had recently walked the battlefields of the Civil War with her husband and with Abraham Lincoln. She had just written “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. But now, as the Franco Prussian War was beginning, she felt that she could not bear any more violence. She called for a congress of women to gather immediately to promote PEACE: A Mother’s Day for Peace.

Julia Ward Howe held a standing-room-only meeting in Boston the day that she read her proclamation.

About that same time, there was Anna Jarvis, who organized “A Mother’s Friendship Day” in which mothers from both North and South whose sons had died in the Civil War gathered, dressed in gray or blue, to hold hands together and sing.

Anna Jarvis’s daughter – who shared her name – began what is now thought of as the first U.S. Mother’s Day on May 10, 1908. It was a church service dedicated to mothers, recognizing their unappreciated work, and calling for peace in the home and in the world. Andrews Methodist Church, in Grafton, West Virginia, is considered the Mother Church of Mother’s Day. The next year Mother’s Day was celebrated in 45 states.

On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially named the second Sunday in May “Mother’s Day.” His declaration included flowery language about the important role mothers play in the home and in society. But Wilson said nothing about a mother’s role in promoting peace in the world.

I’m the mom of three kids, ages 12, 13, and 16. I’ll get the flowers and the cards. I’m even hoping for a nice brunch. I love being appreciated for being a mom. I always let my own mom know how much I love her on the big day. And who doesn’t love a bouquet of flowers in May? But there’s so much more at stake. Here is Julia Ward Howe’s proclamation:

“Arise, then, 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 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 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 and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time 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 / Writer, Lecturer, Reformer / Boston 1870

Happy Mother’s Day.

Nanci Olesen is the host of Nanci welcomes you to the Lake Harriet Bandshell at 2 pm. on May 13 for a live reading of the Mother’s Day Proclamation for Peace and a “variety show” of maternal talent. JOIN US! It’s free!