The Original “Mothers’ Day” Movement
On Sunday, May 8, we celebrated Mother’s Day. On that day, I was struck by what Heather Cox Richardson, an American history professor at Boston College, had to say about the history of the observation in her May 7 Letters from an American post heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/may-7-2022:
“If you google the history of Mother’s Day, the internet will tell you that Mother’s Day began in 1908 when Anna Jarvis decided to honor her mother. But “Mothers’ Day”—with the apostrophe not in the singular spot, but in the plural—actually started in the 1870s, when the sheer enormity of the death caused by the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War convinced American women that women must take control of politics from the men who had permitted such carnage. Mothers’ Day was not designed to encourage people to be nice to their mothers. It was part of women’s effort to gain power to change modern society.”
Richardson went on to say that it was Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, who originally authored an Appeal to Women throughout the world to establish a “’festival which should be observed as mothers’ day, and which should be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines’ to be held around the world on June 2 of every year, a date that would permit open-air meetings.”
“For Howe, the Civil War had been traumatic, but that it led to emancipation might justify its terrible bloodshed. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 was another story. She remembered:
“’I was visited by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone know and bear the cost?”’
Abdu’l -Baha, the leader of the Baha’i Faith from 1892-1921 wrote: “Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it. Mothers will not give their sons as sacrifices upon the battlefield after twenty years of anxiety and loving devotion in rearing them from infancy, no matter what cause they are called upon to defend. There is no doubt that when women obtain equality of rights, war will entirely cease among mankind.”
With wars still raging in our world, it seems very relevant for us to understand that the original “Mothers’ Day” movement was an appeal to women to bond together to demand an end to bloodshed. Empowering the women in our lives, honoring their voices and seeking paths to world peace indeed seems to me to be the best way to honor our mothers.
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.