©Copyright 2011 Paula J. Caplan All rights reserved

The role of war and peace in the origin of Mother's Day in the United States

May we step aside from the intense media focus on the apparent death of bin Laden to take note that hundreds of thousands of American women will spend this Mother's Day worrying about their children who are in the military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world, where they could lose their lives in one of our wars?

One of the prime movers for creation of a Mother's Day in the United States was Julia Ward Howe, whose "Mother's Day Proclamation" was inspired by the devastation of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. In it, Howe called for mothers to grieve for those who had died and then to work for peace. Her proclamation is well worth reading slowly and with care. It is here below, and in light of what she says, I wish you and yours not only a happy but also a pensive Mother's Day. May we take her words as inspiration to act, to work for peace.

Mother's Day Proclamation

by Julia Ward Howe

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided 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 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 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, 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 someplace 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.

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