What comes to your mind when you think about Mother’s Day celebrations? A special outing, perhaps, or flowers and greeting cards? This year, the National Retail Foundation estimates that Mother’s Day spending will reach a record high of $31.6 billion. Some would say that spending is vastly inadequate in a society with such little support provided to mothers. For example, in the U.S., women would earn $1.5 trillion annually if paid minimum wage for their current unpaid work. Alas, I digress from the point. Our modern emphasis on consumerism has nearly erased the origins of Mother’s Day as a day of social justice.
In 1870, Julia Ward Howe (a mother, abolitionist, suffragette, and poet) wrote a plea for mothers across the globe to band together in the name of peace. Having just experienced firsthand the atrocities of the American Civil War, followed shortly by the news of the Franco-Prussian War, Howe had witnessed that mothers suffered and lost the most through war. But she also knew that mothers could be a force for peace. In her Mother’s Day Proclamation she wrote, “
“...women need no longer to made party to the proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror... the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered as never before.
Arise, then… women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or tears! Say firmly: We will not have the 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 to those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devasted 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 vindicate 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 council...
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.”
Howe advocated for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” annually on June 2. Despite her earnest efforts, the event never grew beyond the limits of Boston. But it was a contributing influence on Anna Jarvis, whose own social activist mother, Ann Jarvis, had developed “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs”. The clubs sought to improve the lives of other mothers by educating about hygiene and sanitation. In 1907, Anna Jarvis organized the holiday that would become a national holiday in 1914 (Julia Ward Howe died in 1910 and the elder Jarvis died in 1905).
This year, as we celebrate the numerous mothers and mother figures in our lives, let's not forget the origins of this day. What better way is there to honor the mothers of the world than to remember all they have taught us? If we err, let us err on the side of patience, social justice, and peace.
Nathan Ticknor is part of the ESC of Central Ohio as a Business and Strategic Development Consultant with OCALI, a recognized global leader in creating and connecting resources and relationships to ensure that people with disabilities have the opportunity to live their best lives for their whole lives. Outside of his role with OCALI he volunteers for a grassroots environmental organization and is passionate about the environment and social justice.