Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
This was part of the proclamation of Julia Ward Howe, the woman who is most credited with introducing the idea of Mother’s Day to the United States (and likely by way of proximity, to Canada). While she is most famous for writing the lyrics for The Battle Hymn of the Republic, she penned the above proclamation in 1870. It was a call to unite all women against war in all forms. She wanted peaceful resolutions to all conflicts. Her words had little to do with chocolates, flowers and sweet handmade gifts — and everything to do with justice, equality and peace on an international scale.
While Howe’s attempt to get formal recognition of Mother’s Day was not successful, there were others who followed her lead. In 1907, two years after social activist Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis died, her daughter Anna Marie Jarvis started a campaign for Mother’s Day. She and her mother had Mother’s Day Work Clubs in five cities that focused on improving health and sanitation. They also helped to care for Confederate soldiers. By 1914, she was successful and Mother’s Day was decreed a national holiday.
While these two women get the credit for bringing together the idea of motherhood and peace, there are organizations and groups spearheaded by women all over the world mobilizing for peace and justice. In 1918, the Women’s International League for Peace was formed in the U.K.. Groups like this created a wave, which inspired women to band together to refuse violence, militarism, and war. One such movement, formed in 1988, was the Women in Black. Jewish women responded to Palestinian violence by taking to public spaces to host weekly vigils.
In 2001, the Mindanao Commission on Women, Mothers for Peace, was established by Muslim, Christian and Indigenous women leaders of Mindanao in the Philippines as a vehicle for change. Their goal was to insert women’s perspectives into the decision making, to influence public policy and public opinion about peace and development. They have lobbied to make women’s issues central to decisions about peace because the leadership of women is integral to creating and sustaining peace.
I could easily continue to identify and talk about other groups of women that have linked equality, motherhood and peace — because there are many. I have started a tradition in my house of hosting Mother’s Day brunch. As a member of the youngest generation of mothers in my family, it’s my job. I will always honour those who have walked the path before me, those who know how tough it is and are helping me to navigate my own way.
But, this Mother’s Day, I would like to return to the message that Julia Ward Howe tried so desperately to have acknowledged, the message carried on by the Mothers of Peace in the Philippines, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Uganda, the United States of America, Canada and, yes, even my fair hometown of Victoria, British Columbia.
Unrest, injustice, conflict, murder, rape, mental illness and war — it all exists, and this Mother’s Day, I would like to call for a moment of silence for mother’s who have lost children, children who have lost mothers, and for peace. Above all, global peace, because we are still seeking it, hoping for it, wanting it and do not yet have it.
Recently, a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went viral on social media sites like Facebook in response to celebration and cheer over Osama Bin Laden’s death. While I’m somewhat ashamed to have reposted a quote that was not entirely historically accurate, I agree with the sentiment.
During a sermon in 1957 Dr. Martin Luther King, inspired by his mother or his good, pure heart, actually said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Anna Marie Jarvis later became bitter about the commercialization of Mother’s Day and was not, to say the least, a great fan of the greeting card. She argued that they were lazy, hollow and strayed from the original intent of the holiday. E-greeting cards would probably send her rolling in her grave. At her mother’s funeral, Jarvis handed out 500 white carnations. This set off a tradition of giving pink carnations to mothers to represent love and respect, and white carnations worn in honour and respect for those mothers who are no longer living. My dining room table will have a mixture of both.
And my message to kids – thank your mother for loving you and helping you to resolve conflicts.
“Mary Cassatt’s “Mother and Child”, 1880s”
“NS Bendre’s 1980 oil on canvas, ‘Mother and Child'”