Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, was sickened by the terrible carnage of the Civil War. Across the pond and equally jingoist and obtuse, Europeans were busy needlessly spilling blood in the Franco-Prussian war. Howe wrote her Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 (see below) and took it to a peace conference in London. By 1872 she began lobbying for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” to honor peace and motherhood together . For a while the idea caught on in many US cities but it eventually died out. But a good idea eventually gets legs.
In 1910 others had picked up the torch but the peace dynamite had been pulled and in 1913 the US House of Representatives declared a Mothers’ Day and in 1914 the second Sunday in May it was made official. A national holiday was instituted. Canada soon followed suit.
Sadly today’s Mothers’ Day is to Howe’s idea as Christmas is to Jesus, a pale imitation of the radical original.
It surely is time, particularly in the heart of darkness, the global epicentre of violence, the USA to hear the cry of a great American, Julia Ward Howe:
Say firmly: “We will not have 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 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.”
As Canada under the Harper government moves to ape the worst instinct of the United States, we need to imitate the spirit of the first Mothers’ Day.