The Origins of Mother’s Day

Did you know that Mother’s Day originated not as a day to honor all mothers, but as a day for women to gather in community activism? Middle-class women in the 19th century played a leading role in the abolitionist movement to end slavery, protested against the great bloodshed of wars, battled for improved working conditions for women, and advocated for public health services, social welfare assistance to the poor, and protection for children. They believed they had a special responsibility as actual or potential mothers to care for the casualties of society. Perhaps it is time to turn away from the rampant commercialism and unconscious shaming of those who were not protected or cared for by their own mothers that this day has evolved into, and return to these roots. Our nurturing capacities as females are greatly needed for the many suffering on our planet.

Here is Julia Ward Howe’s moving Mother’s Day Proclamation, written in 1870, as a protest to the carnage of the Civil War, in honor of all of the women who had lost their sons:

“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

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 of murder is not the balance
of justice.”

Blood does not wipe our 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
Boston
1870

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