June 20 ē 04:19 PM

Mother's Day history does women proud

April 16, 2008
As we kick off our Mother's Day Essay Contest (details in this issue), I thought I'd do a little research on the roots of the American holiday.

As is usually the case with women, things get accomplished through a mixture of strength, wisdom, passion, drama and dedication. The formation of 'Mother's Day' is no different.

According to the MothersDayCentral Web site, the first Mother's Day proclamation was written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870. Twelve years earlier she'd written the words to 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic,' but she had so much anxiety and sorrow over the carnage caused by the Civil War that she beseeched all mothers to rise up and protest her perception of "the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers."

She wrote the following in hopes of creating an international Mother's Day which would celebrate peace and motherhood:

"Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise all women who have hearts,

Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears

Say firmly:

"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,

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.

"We 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.

As men have of ten forsaken the plow 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 then 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, not of Caesar,

But of God.

"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 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."

Though Howe proposed having the Mother's Day celebration on July 4, eventually the date was set at June 2.

By 1873, women's groups in 18 cities observed the new holiday, with Howe funding most of the cele- brations. When her funding ran dry, so did many of the celebrations, except the one in Boston, where the tradition continued for ten more years.

Though Howe's concept of the holiday failed, she lit the spark for the "modern" Mother's Day.

Anna Reeves Jarvis led a group of West Virginia women in celebrating a "Mother's Friendship Day" aimed at reuniting families and neighbors who'd been divided between the Union and Confederate sides of the Civil War.

After Anna's death, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis took up the cause in honor of her mother. She worked full-time to lobby for the official observance of 'Mother's Day.' She passed out white carnations, symbolizing her mother, to churchgoers at the first big celebration she put together at a Methodist church. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize the holiday. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a decree naming the second Sunday in May as 'Mother's Day.'

From there, a battle ensued over commercial- ization of the holiday. Jarvis was unhappy about what she perceived to be an exploitation of the observance by florists and other merchants. Ironically, as upsetting as it was to Jarvis, when she died in 1948 "blind, poor and childless," her care had been anonymously paid for by The Florist's Exchange.

Mother's Day. A tribute to all women, everywhere.

Email Catherine at

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