'In the Name of Womanhood and Humanity ...'

On the radical, anti-war origins of Mother's Day


| May 6, 2004


Long before Hallmark, long before flower deliveries that seem almost second nature to those of us who live away from our mothers, American poet and women's leader Julia Ward Howe called for the establishment of Mother's Day in 1870. Her gesture was intended not as a sentimental tribute to those who bare children, but as a call for women to wage a general strike to end war. 'Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of / 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.' she wrote in her Mother's Day Proclamation in Boston, with memories of the Civil War and its butchery still fresh on America's conscience.

Geov Parrish of WorkingForChange.com marvels at how few people know the true roots of Mother's Day -- even peace activists are in the dark. But, he writes, 'as more and more mothers, in America as well as in Iraq, mourn their fallen sons and daughters, lost to the insanity of organized violence -- Julia Ward Howe's call for women to not allow their men to constantly play at war is suddenly back in fashion. Around the country, her original Mother's Day Proclamation will be the basis this year for parades, remembrances, and other events that try to reclaim the holiday's original spirit in a year when the United States' (male-dominated) government talks seriously not of avoiding, but staying the course on the multiple ones we're already fighting.'

Opposing war is, in fact, compatible with 'the universal notion of honoring mothers,' Parrish adds. 'Women, even more so now, are the primary sufferers of warfare. In the 20th Century, civilian populations bore 90 percent of war's casualties around the world; mass and indiscriminate attacks, popularized in WWII by the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Allied firebombings in Japan and Germany, and the rape of Nanjing, are only the most spectacular examples of a phenomenon in which women become the rape and famine victims, the refugees, the forgotten statistics in what are invariably the wars of men.'
-- Jacob Wheeler

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