The Mother’s Day Proclamation of Julia Ward Howe
Mother’s Day began as a dream of Julia Ward Howe. No fru-fru sentimental holiday was on Howe’s mind, but a challenge to the world to stop war and listen to the hearts of mothers. Jonathan Klate shares this summary and Howe’s proclamation itself, courtesy of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
Reaffirming Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Vision
Julia Ward Howe offered her Mother’s Day Proclamation to the world in 1870. Her dream was the establishment of an international Mothers’ Day Festival dedicated to the cause of nonviolent resolution of conflict and international solidarity among all women.
Her pacifist consciousness had been provoked by the bloodshed of the Franco-Prussian War. Her activism was cultivated in the struggles for abolition of slavery and the quest for women’s suffrage. She had the proclamation translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Swedish, working for the establishment of Mother’s Day in concert with women internationally celebrating peace and women’s empowerment.
Howe died in 1910, four years before President Woodrow Wilson officially declared the day in 1914 in response to the burgeoning success of the movement she inspired. But Wilson avoided any mention of the thrust of Howe’s cause in his declaration, instead emphasizing only the nurturing “home and hearth” dimension of motherhood. He also spurned the internationalist concern that was central to Howe’s consciousness, distorting this into American nationalism.
Howe’s central concerns, the universality of motherhood and its natural expression in anti-war sentiment, was excised from the official meaning of the day.
President Wilson proclaimed: “Now, therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the said Joint Resolution, do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
Compare this to Howe’s far more high minded vision, still so desperately needed in this suffering divided world. Here is the text of her 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation, so prescient in its understanding, so courageous in its call, so plaintiff in its currency nearly a century and a half later.
Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
“We will not have questions answered 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 voice of a 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 our 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 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.
Jonathan Klate who resides in Amherst, Massachusetts where he writes frequently about spirituality, compassionate politics, and the relationship between these two. Please feel welcome to forward.
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