Mother's Day: A Day of Peace; A Day to Protest War
May 12, 2017
The Peace Alliance & Donald E. Skinner / UU News
Too few Americans are aware that early advocates of Mother's Day in the US originally envisioned it as a day of peace, to honor and support mothers who lost sons and husbands to the carnage of the Civil War. In 1870 -- nearly 40 years before it became an official US holiday -- Julia Ward Howe issued her inspired Mother's Day Proclamation, calling on mothers of all nationalities to band together to promote the "amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."
Julia Ward Howe and the
History of Mother's Day as a Day of Peace
The Peace Alliance
"Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of tears! . . . 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."
-- Julia Ward Howe, 1870
From her Mother's Day Proclamation for Peace
(Full proclamation below)
Too few Americans are aware that early advocates of Mother's Day in the United States originally envisioned it as a day of peace, to honor and support mothers who lost sons and husbands to the carnage of the Civil War.
In 1870 -- nearly 40 years before it became an official US holiday in 1914 -- social justice advocate Julia Ward Howe issued her inspired Mother's Day Proclamation, which called upon mothers of all nationalities to band together to promote the "amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."
She envisioned a day of solemn council where women from all over the world could meet to discuss the means whereby to achieve world peace.
Julia Ward Howe was a prominent American abolitionist, feminist, poet, and the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." She nursed and tended the wounded during the civil war, and worked with the widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides of the war, realizing that the effects of the war go far beyond the killing of soldiers in battle.
The devastation she witnessed during the civil war inspired her to call out for women to "rise up through the ashes and devastation," urging a Mother's Day dedicated to peace. Her advocacy continued as she saw war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War.
As the call for a Mother's Day carried on, it gained new momentum and finally became a national holiday in the early 1900's with the lead of Anna Jarvis, who had been inspired by her mother, also named Anna Jarvis, who had worked with Julia Ward Howe in earlier efforts for a Mother's Day.
While Mother's Day has presently lost much of its early edge for justice, it's important to note some of the underpinning intentions and re-commit ourselves to its prescient calling. At a time when our country is again engaged in devastating and costly wars abroad and many of our own communities are torn apart by violence, it's time for Mother's Day to return to its roots.
In the spirit of Ward Howe's original call, this occasion can be a time to dedicate ourselves, on behalf of mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers everywhere, to rise up and protect our most vulnerable by calling for our leaders to make a directional shift in the course of our nation.
There is no need more urgent than addressing the devastation brought on by violence in all of its forms -- affecting the lives of untold millions in our nation and around the world. Then, we may finally see the carnage and devastation of violence and war fade into its own history. There could of course be no better way to honor our mothers.
MOTHER'S DAY PROCLAMATION
"Arise, then . . . women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of tears!
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 of murder is not the balance of justice.
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
nor violence vindicate 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 council.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means
whereby the great human family can live in peace,
each bearing after his own kind 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
Mother's Day for Peace,
As Julia Ward Howe Intended
Donald E. Skinner / UU News
(May 19, 2008) -- Sara Sautter said she would have been "satisfied" if 250 people had shown up on Mother's Day for the first annual Moms Against the War peace rally along a busy Overland Park, Kans., street. When 500 people came out, filling almost a half-mile of sidewalk, she was ecstatic.
Sautter, the director of religious education at Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Overland Park, gives the credit to 19th-century abolitionist, social activist, poet, and Unitarian Julia Ward Howe. Howe, the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," became sickened by the bloodshed in the Civil War, and in 1870 she wrote a Mother's Day proclamation calling women around the world to speak out for peace.
"Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience," she wrote. "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."
Howe called women together for a "congress of action." And for several years there was a "Mother's Day for Peace." It ultimately became simply "Mother's Day," however, and the emphasis on peace was lost. Sautter and Shawnee Mission church member Nancy Mays felt called to bring back that emphasis on peace.
While chaperoning a Coming of Age youth trip to Boston, Sautter and Mays lamented the difficulty of raising children in a war-ravaged world, and felt inspired to do something. But what? Then someone mentioned Howe. Mays, and others, over a period of months, decided that Mother's Day would be the perfect time to wage peace and set up a website called "Julia's Voice" (juliasvoice.org). That's how 500 people came to be strung out along a sidewalk in one of Kansas City's largest suburbs on a Sunday afternoon.
Standing with them was a "peace choir," two Julia Ward Howe impersonators, and some Iraq war veterans. Sautter said there was an overwhelmingly friendly reception from motorists and others. "A number of people even stopped and joined us," she said. The two Julia Ward Howe impersonators read Howe's "Mother's Day Proclamation" and shared the story of her life. The peace choir sang.
Before the event, at the Sunday morning worship services at Shawnee Mission UU Church, the Rev. Thom Belote asked all the people who were going to the afternoon event to stand, and then he gave them a blessing.
"They left the church with very high positive energy, and it carried over into the event," said Sautter, who noted that at least 100 friends and members of the church attended the event, plus others from All Souls UU Church in Kansas City and the Gaia Community, another UU congregation.
The event was helped by two news stories the week before. The event itself was covered by two TV stations. Sautter said she was pleased that most coverage focused on Julia Ward Howe. "I wanted this to be about turning Mother's Day back to its original intent, not about a bunch of angry moms. So we got to honor our Unitarian forebear for doing a really cool thing and we gave mothers a voice in the cause of peace."
She said she expects "Moms Against the War" events to spread to more congregations next year. "More than a hundred people signed up Sunday to be involved next year, and we've gotten a lot of feedback on our website, so we think maybe we've started something." Even this year there were Mother's Day peace forums, walks, and other events at a half-dozen UU congregations from Bethesda, Md., to Idaho Falls, Idaho, Sautter said.
Shawnee Mission UU Church member Kay Heley, who helped organize the event, said, "My goal was to get people involved who had never done anything like this, and have it be a good experience for them and that happened. There were smiles on peoples' faces. People felt good about spending Mother's Day this way."
Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.
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