Traditional Mother’s Day has been a stick in my craw since 2004 when I discovered the true roots of the holiday.
Mother’s Day began as a women’s peace movement, not as the biggest Hallmark card day of the year!
Not that I don’t think mothers deserve a special day of adulation. It’s just that it’s a cynical perversion of women’s power to take a women’s peace movement and turn it into a boon for florists and restaurants.
The Fabulous Women Who Would Despise What Mother’s Day Has Become
More than 140 years ago, two women had similar ideas spawned from their up-close experience of war.
The first was Poet Julia Ward Howe, who was an abolitionist and outspoken supporter for the North during the Civil War. She wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which became the marching song for the Union Army.
But when the Franco-Prussian war erupted in 1870, she decided she had seen one war too many. That year, she issued a Mother’s Day Proclamation urging all mothers to ban together and fight for peace.
A minister’s wife in rural West Virginia had a similar idea. In 1858, Ann Reeves Jarvis started Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in Appalachia to teach mothers how to use basic sanitation to stop the spread of deadly diseases in their families. When the Civil War erupted, she redeployed the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to tend to the health of the soldiers – both union and rebel. That was critical in a war were more soldiers died from disease than from battle.
Two years after Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna embarked on a campaign to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. For her, it was to be a national day of peace.
It wasn’t until 1914 that President Woodrow Wilson officially designated Mother’s Day as a holiday.
But far from the peace activism of the mothers who conceived it, Mother’s Day was deemed to be a time to publicly revere motherhood.
Jarvis’ daughter, Anna, was so distraught, she spent the rest of her days (and the family’s resources) campaigning against Mother’s Day.
I understand Anna’s frustration. She believed what her mother believed and what history has proven:
Mothers have the power to shift the consciousness of humankind
It was mothers in Belfast – Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, who helped end the violence in Northern Ireland, earning them a Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.
One mother, Candy Lightner, forever changed our consciousness around drunk driving.
Mothers internationally have stood up against oppression and changed the world for their daughters and sons: 1991 Nobel prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi left behind her children and languished in prison to protest the Myanmar military regime;
Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, the mother of five, became the first female leader of a Muslim country in the modern world before her assassination in 2007;
2011 Nobel prize-winner and mother of four, Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf, became Africa’s first woman to win a free presidential election when she became president of Liberia.
When I look at the challenges that face Detroit—from violence to poverty to joblessness – I know that none of them are equal to the prayers and activism of the city’s mothers.
I’m reminded of a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
How’s that for a Mother’s Day card?
Check out our other Mother’s Day pieces: