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Mothers for Peace

by Mary Anderson on 2023-05-08T07:31:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, a time to honor mothers and motherhood. Many will celebrate the mothers in their lives by giving flowers, cards, and other gifts. However, in the United States Mother’s Day was initially envisioned as a day to advocate for peace.

One of the early supporters of this commemoration was Julia Ward Howe, who during the Civil War helped the wounded and worked with the widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides of the conflict. In the face of the devastation caused by the war, she believed it was important for women to come together and call for peace. In 1870 she issued her “Mother’s Day Proclamation for Peace” in which she argued women could no longer let their sons be lost to war and that violence could not bring about justice. She concluded, “In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place 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.”

It would be over forty years later, in 1914, that Mother’s Day would become nationally recognized when Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating an annual Mother's Day be held on the second Sunday in May. This came about in large part due to the advocacy of Anna Jarvis. Jarvis began her efforts to establish Mother’s Day as a holiday in 1905, the year her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis died. The elder Jarvis was also a peace activist and had worked alongside Ward Howe. Anna Jarvis organized the first modern celebration of Mother’s Day in 1907 at a worship service at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. This was  followed by a large-scale letter writing campaign to politicians and the media urging the adoption of a day honoring motherhood.

Although she was successful in getting the holiday established, she soon became disheartened by the commercialization of surrounding the day. She organized boycotts and protests but failed to turn back the tide of profit. Still the origins of this day need not be forgotten. Even as you go shopping for your mother and the mothering figures in your life, take some time to think about the connections of this day with peace advocacy. To learn more about peacebuilding, check out the book display on the Library’s third floor. Happy Mother’s Day!

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