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Mother’s Day: Remember its original message of peace



CodePink members in San Francisco in April 2008


Did you know that the original Mother’s Day was inextricably linked with a message of peace?


Julia Ward Howe, a U.S. poet, feminist, and abolishonist, created the first Mother’s Day Proclamation in the United States in 1870. She wrote this rousing piece in reaction to the  U.S. Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. She believed that women, particularly as spouses of soldiers and those who bore sons who went to war,  held a responsibility to take a political stand for peace, not war.



                   Julia Ward Howe


Here is what Howe declared in her proclamation:


 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.


Subtle this proclamation ain’t, nor religiously or spiritually inclusive. But it’s a passionate voice nevertheless, and a remarkable one for its period. (Ironically, Howe wrote the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which became a popular anthem sung by the Union side (the north) during the U.S. Civil War.)

                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

Sadly, Howe’s words still bear just as much relevance today, since humanity seems to have learned no lessons about the ravages of war.  Modern sons and daughters are dying in Iraq,  Afghanistan, Pakistan, Darfur.  .  .


In honor of this year’s Mother’s Day, I invite all women, mothers or not, and men to support any action or event that promotes peace. Start with yourself and share your message of peace with your loved ones and neighbors, sons, and daughters. We all need this message every day. I support the group CodePink Women for Peace and the practices outlined in the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. Remember: There’s a difference between promoting peace and protesting against war, but don’t let language nuances stop your activism.


May 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm
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