Saturday, May 8, 2010

Shocking as it is, I did not know until recently that Mother's Day began as an act of defiance. The defiance of a woman unwilling to accept the conditions imposed upon her by war.

When Julia Ward Howe proposed "A Mother's Day For Peace," it was as an activist and a feminist. Below is her original proclamation. But her mission was co-opted and her daughter, Anna, later sued florists who "would undermine Mother's Day with their greed." She lost. And Mother's Day has blossomed into a billion dollar industry.

Today there is war. There are mothers without health care. Without jobs. Without education. Without the assistance that might support their considerable roles in the shaping of our nation.

As I have undertaken to write a memoir about my relationship with my own mother, I have begun to investigate her life. What I have discovered has enlightened me. There is so much I don't know. That I may never know. Like mother's day itself, she is revealed by her history.

Of course, she would have a regular hissy fit had I not sent a card and a gift. She would be hurt. Would feel left out. But I would tell her that I am for peace, lets not fight. Lets just talk. Tell me a story Mom. Tell me about your life.

Mother's Day Proclamation – 1870

-- Julia Ward Howe

Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered 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 a 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.
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 counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress,
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And 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.

Howe (1817-1919) was an abolitionist who also worked for disarmament and women’s rights. She was a published poet and co-publisher of the The Commonwealth, an anti-slavery newspaper.

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