Yesterday was Mother’s Day. Cook mom breakfast. Clean up the kitchen. Treat her to brunch. Give flowers and cards in hopes that it makes up for all the trouble you caused her the rest of the year.
Mother’s Day, though, was born out of bad times. Three names are associated with the birth of Mother’s Day:
Ann Reeves Jarvis
Julia Ward Howe
Each one an activist.
Anna Jarvis is credited as the “official” founder of Mother’s Day in the United States. She did it to honor her mom, Ann Reeves Jarvis.
Ann Reeves Jarvis and her husband lived in the Appalachian mountains of Western Virginia where Ann gave birth to 12 children. Due to terribly unhealthy conditions in the area, only 4 of her kids survived to adulthood.
Something had to change and Ann was going to make the change happen. She became a crusader for public health, establishing in churches across the area “Mother’s Day Work Clubs.” These weren’t book clubs or bridge clubs. These were “make our world better” clubs. These crusading women would visit local families to provide information and education on sanitation, nutrition and overall health. The clubs raised money to help families who needed assistance covering medical costs.
After the Civil War Ann Reeves Jarvis became a force for reconciliation between the North and South. In 1868, despite threats of violence, club members held a “Mother’s Day of Friendship” for veterans from both sides of the war. The women arranged for the band to play first the Confederate ballad, “Dixie,” then the Union’s “Star Spangled Banner.” The song-fest ended with the entire community joining together to sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
Anna said, “Thanks Mom” and “Thanks to all the activist moms” who worked for physical and national healing.
The third woman is Julia Ward Howe. Most of us know her as the author of the Union’s anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a rallying cry for the North.
She wrote the lyrics to that anthem in 1861 – just before the beginning the Civil War.
In 1870, she wrote these words as part of what was called the “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World,” later known as “Mother’s Day Proclamation,”
Our husbands shall 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…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!
We could call it a “Pacifist Manifesto.”
How did Ms Howe go from cheerleader for war to anti-war activism?
Maybe it was the 625,000 soldiers on both sides slaughtered (⅔ of them killed by disease).
Maybe it was the thousands of widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides for whom she cared.
Maybe she saw that the effects of war go beyond the killing of soldiers in battle.
Maybe she heard these words from Union General William Tecumseh Sherman,
I confess without shame that I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have never heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is Hell.”
Whatever her reasons, Julia Ward Howe became a passionate pacifist. Ms Howe did not have much confidence in men’s ability to stop war – male pride and all – so she directed her call to women and intensified her efforts to extend to women the right to vote.
Ann Reeves Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe:
Children of God
“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called ‘children of God.’” Jesus, Matthew 5:9
Let’s make every day Mother’s Day by living in the light of these activists: Ms Jarvis, Ms Howe, and Jesus.