The Evolution of Mother’s Day

This Sunday, in the United States, Italy, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, and Turkey, is Mother’s Day.

Each country has its own origins for this holiday, but in our country it is traced back to Julia Ward Howe; a staunch abolitionist and poet best remembered for her poem “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.  Back in 1890, Howe composed a “Mother’s Peace Day Proclamation”.  For many years thereafter, she was instrumental in organizing festivities in Boston.

The mantle was picked up later by one Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia who, in 1907, began a seven-year campaign to have Mother’s Day recognized as a national holiday.  President Wilson finally consented and signed legislation to this effect in 1914.

Today’s Mother’s Day bears little resemblance to Julia Ward Howe’s post-civil war vision.  For the most part, we honor our mothers on this day with brunch, cards, flowers, and candy.  Apart from the commercialization of it all, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, of course.  It is just interesting to take stock of how this important day has evolved.

For the record, then, here is Julia Ward Howe’s original, 1890 Proclamation.  In her own impassioned words, she shares her goals for the original holiday:

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 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 learning after his 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.”

See you in church,

–Rev. Dominic