Laura Kacere
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Saturday 12 May 2012
“Mother’s Day began in America in 1870 when Julia Ward Howe wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation.”

The Radical History of Mother’s Day

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There’s a good number of us who question holidays like Mother’s Day in which you spend more time feeding money into a system that exploits our love for our mothers than actually celebrating them.  It’s not unlike any other holiday in America in that its complete commercialization has stripped away so much of its genuine meaning, as well its history.  Mother’s Day is unique in its completely radical and totally feminist history, as much as it has been forgotten.

Mother’s Day began in America in 1870 when Julia Ward Howe wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. Written in response to the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, her proclamation called on women to use their position as mothers to influence society in fighting for an end to all wars. She called for women to stand up against the unjust violence of war through their roles as wife and mother, to protest the futility of their sons killing other mothers’ sons.

Howe wrote:

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will 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, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

[Read the remainder of Howe's quote here

The holiday caught on years later when a West Virginia women’s group led by Anna Reeves Jarvis began promoting it as a way to reunite families after the Civil War.  After Jarvis’ death, her daughter began a campaign for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in honor of peace. Devoting much of her life to the cause, it wasn’t until 1914 when Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance in 1914.

The holiday flourished, along with the flower industry.  The business journal, the Florists Review, actually admitted to its desire to exploit the holiday. Jarvis was strongly opposed to every aspect of the holiday’s commercialization, arrested for protesting the sale of flowers, and petitioning to stop the creation of a Mother’s Day postage stamp. 

Today we are in multiple wars that continue to claim the lives of thousands of sons and daughters.  We are also experiencing a still-rising commercialization of nearly every aspect of life; the exploitation of every possible human event and emotion at the benefit of corporations.

Let’s take this Mother’s Day to excuse ourselves from the pressure to consume and remember its radical roots – that mothers, or rather all women, in fact, all people, have a stake in war and a responsibility as American citizens to protest the incredible violence that so many fellow citizens, here and abroad, must suffer through. 

The thousands of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the devastating impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on our veterans are just the beginning of the terrible repercussion of war.  As we saw last week an announcement of an extension of the military occupation of Afghanistan, let this mother’s day be a day after Julia Ward Howe’s own heart as we stand up and say no to 12 more years of war.



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ABOUT Laura Kacere

Laura Kacere is a political activist and radical feminist who seeks to dismantle imperialist heterosexist cisgendered patriarchy and make repro rights available to all. She is currently living in DC.

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20 comments on "The Radical History of Mother’s Day"

huntubun

January 07, 2013 5:08am

you gaze for clean thoughts to rage you nurse fit here you will see not just lone two or three but various thoughts to joy your valued mom http://www.mazapoint.com/category/mother-day-messages.

RadicalRev

May 14, 2012 4:34pm

Thinking about the radical beginnings of Mother's Day and the religious values that support it, check out my own article at http://www.examiner.com/article/a-religious-response-to-war.

Focis

May 13, 2012 9:16pm

Thank you for informing us about that. It would be spectacular if you created an ecard that people could send next mother's day instead of the existing nonsense. Then we could use the occasion for the good purpose for which it was created.

alsilver

May 16, 2012 6:26am

Agreed. My mother disliked mother's day's false sentiments and mocked those who thought they were doing their mothers a favor by taking them out to lunch once a year and buying them a card.

Eliz77

May 19, 2012 12:54am

Here is a poem I wrote that has gone out internationally since 2002. There is a graphic with the card. If you like I will send it to you. love, Eliz

PINK ROSES
“Women of the day, Arise!”
Julia W. Howe, Founder of Mothers’ Day
And I say, Yes,
You can buy me roses
for Mothers’ Day.
But first,
get me justice.

Take me out to dinner
at a fancy feast.
But first,
feed the hungry.

Sisters and Brothers, don’t let them
throw our sons and daughters
on Mammon’s fiery iron altar of war.
Granny says we need
“Smart babies, not smart bombs.”

So, yes, get me PINK roses
for Mothers’ Day.
But first,
get me peace.

Love, Eliz

mgifford

May 14, 2012 5:52pm

Well, Inter Pares already set up e-cards for this purpose http://takebacktheday.ca

mgifford

May 13, 2012 3:19pm

On a related note http://takebacktheday.ca is an initiative to do this here in Canada. http://rabble.ca/news/2012/05/why-we-should-celebrate-real-origins-mothe...

David J. Cyr

May 13, 2012 6:01am

In a sociopathic society dependent upon war, it is a truly unpopular and "radical" position to oppose war.

(D) dedicated liberals do not oppose war. Those "smart voting" liberals eagerly perpetuated the resource wars of aggression by supporting the corporate party's Democrats, who merely relabeled what was ridiculed as "dumb" when (R)s got the credit to be advertised as "necessary" and "humanitarian" when the "intelligent" (D)s MovedOn to wage more war.

The "Principles" of Liberal Voters:

http://chenangogreens.org

Jill Stein for President:

http://www.jillstein.org

patriotpress4usa

May 12, 2012 10:44pm

sorry Laura but your article is factually incomplete- it does not go far enough historically...it was Anna Jarvis' mother who promoted the original Mothers Day...it was called "Mothers Work Day" and was the creation of Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, who organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day." Mother’s Day did not begin with Julia Ward Howe. Anna Jarvis started the tradition 15 years before her. There was nothing "radical" about its creation...it was done out of love of family and children suffering in abject poverty...Anna Jarvis was a Conservative... probably why you omitted that fact?

Eliz77

May 19, 2012 12:57am

SHORT HISTORY OF MOTHERS’ DAY
Mothers’ Day was brought about by strong women who understood the importance of women to nurture the world. In ancient days, the mother goddesses of the world and of gods were celebrated. In America, Julia Ward Howe, in 1870, wrote her beautiful proclamation for peace that says, in part,
“We, women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
Then, in 1908, Alice Jarvis began work to get Mothers Day to be a national holiday. The idea grew and then became so commercialized that she wanted to stop the holiday.
I am telling you this brief history to ask your prayers for all the mothers and children who suffer from violence and war. Several of us have been calling for us to remember Mothers’ Day as a day for peace.

Social Upheaval

May 15, 2012 6:10pm

I'm a peace activist and I too wonder why this inaccurate history is perpetrated. Anne Maria Reeves Jarvis' idea, for Mothers' Work Days in the 1850s was quite progressive by today's standards. She started them to improve health and sanitary conditions before the Civil War. During the conflict, she encouraged the clubs to remain neutral, encouraging peaceful dialogue amongst neighbors who supported different sides of the war. The Mothers' Work Day Clubs provided healthcare for soldiers from both sides of the war. She supported reconciliation after the war with Mother's Friendship Days. Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, advocated for a national holiday in honor of her mother's work. Jarvis became disillusioned by the commercialization of the holiday and expressed regret for devoting so much time and energy into creating it. Primary source: West Virginia Archives & History. According to the Legacy Project, "In 1908, Anna persuaded her mother's church in Grafton, WV to celebrate Mother's Day on the anniversary of her mother's death, the second Sunday of May. It was to be a day to honor all mothers, and also a day to remember the work of peacemaking, reconciliation, and social action against poverty started by her mother." I agree with Patriot Press that these ideas are truly conservative - conserving our communities and our planet.

Julia Ward Howe was an abolitionist and supporter of the Civil War. However, after seeing the carnage of that war and the Franco-Prussian War, she called for a Mother's Peace Day on June 2 in her famous proclamation. Support for the celebrations fizzled out after she stopped funding them.

I think working to create a culture of peace is a good way to honor all of the 19th century women who helped inform modern understanding of Mother's Day.

The photo you used in your op-ed comes from the Peace Boat that US citizens used to attend the first meeting of Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF), during World War I. WILPF still exists - it has sections in 42 countries, works on implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 through its Peace Women project and to end the use of nuclear weapons / power through its Reaching Critical Will project.

I too am inspired by Howe's Proclamation, which is why I'm helping to create a Women's Peace Walk in Los Angeles this June 2 with the WILPF LA branch and the Greater LA Chapter of the US Committee for UN Women. Details at http://j.mp/June2Walk

fortywater

May 13, 2012 12:02pm

Anna Jarvis was not born until 1863. Howe created Mother's Day when Anna Jarvis was 7 years old. Get your facts straight.

Schmice

May 12, 2012 5:20pm

You nailed it Auntie.

wildthang

May 12, 2012 4:12pm

Wars create the causes and conditions of the next wars in an endless chain of events. War is a rape of one country by another. Permanent war is a pathological state.

usafscholl

May 12, 2012 3:45pm

I have the proclamation on a plaque in my dining room I read it at Mothers Day grace. I am a mother and grandmother, I work for peace

rsomrhausr

May 12, 2012 1:20pm

When anyone calls me a radical liberal, I say, "Thank you, glad you noticed." Radical liberals have done many good things for mankind, and tend to be kind and giving.

DixieD

May 12, 2012 1:16pm

I hope all mothers will learn what this day was created for and stay true to the spirit in which it began.

normelle

May 12, 2012 12:47pm

Radical means, "Arising from the root or origin; fundamental." It's not a dirty word.

Auntie Mame

May 12, 2012 10:41am

Second thought: who wrote that headline: "The Radical History of Mother's Day"? How odd that wanting peace should mean that one is "radical"! Perhaps the headline would more accurately read: "The Real Meaning of Mother's Day".

Auntie Mame

May 12, 2012 10:29am

Right on, Laura! Excellent statement with which I concur completely. (And that's a first for me, being inveterately hypercritical -- ask anyone who can put up with me.:)