The Radical History of Mother’s Day

By Laura Kacere
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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 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.”

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.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed …to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

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.

Let’s take this Mother’s Day to excuse ourselves from the overreaching commercialization and instead remember and share 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 extraordinary violence that so many fellow citizens, here and abroad, experience as a result.

5 comments

  1. thank you …quite important/beautiful piece….on women’s/mother’s role in claiming peace…and not participating in the appropriation of a day founded in desire. for other than, war. xo

  2. Neocon / Reform / Alliance CRAP Party new “Conservatives” want live babies
    so women can raise them to be future tax payers and/or dead soldiers,
    and they want mothers to do this for free,
    with ^no pension.

    George Carlin: Pro Life, Abortion, And The Sanctity Of Life
    http://youtu.be/AvF1Q3UidWM

  3. thank you for posting this. I used her proclamation in a metta meditation tonight that was recorded and broadcast online. your post brings us back to the true significance of mother’s day in north america: a nonviolent approach to peace that was started by a woman protesting war.

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