Mother’s Day Wasn’t Always Hearts and Flowers

Today we celebrated Mother’s Day.  In our culture, like many other occasions and events, it is a holiday that has become a commercial windfall.  Cards, flowers, chocolates, clothing, and jewelry sales all get a boost.  It is the busiest day of the year for restaurants. 

But it’s beginnings come from the suffering of the working poor (in the grit of post-war Southern lives)  and the grief of mothers, wives, and sisters of men who came home from the Civil War on both sides,  broken, maimed, vacant…or who didn’t come home at all. 

Some credit the original Anna Jarvis, a working class woman of West Virginia who was disheartened by the sanitary conditions and the mortality rates of the area in which she lived and toiled.  Out of her 13 children, only 4 of Javris’ survived.  She called for a Mother’s Day in 1858, establishing women’s work clubs to reform and improve the lives of women and children.      

Two years after her death, in the year 1907, her daughter, also Anna Jarvis, began to hold a memorial for her mother and began a campaign to make Mother’s Day a nationally recognized commemoration, which it finally became in 1914.   

Another woman instrumental in the movement to forming a national holiday for mothers (to empower women in a meaningful way) was Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910).  A  social activist  and abolitionist, Howe rallied for a Mother’s Day for Peace in 1870, where women all across the country could come out and gather in peaceful demonstrations against war in all its forms.  Ironically, Howe is best known as the author of The Battle Hymn of the Rebublic (a popular Union “fight” song), yet felt compelled to imagine and create forums for peace as the realities of war came home to her in the devastation of returning soldiers, widowed and orphaned families.  She dedicated the rest of her life to the causes of pacifism and suffrage.

Both Howe and Jarvis were outraged in their lifetimes by any commercial gain from a recognition of a Mother’s Day.  It was a day to pray and join together for peace, to remember mothers (living and deceased), to honor and support the work of mothers everywhere.  The printed greeting cards and chocolates were banal substitutes for real affection and social justice.

And while I, today, was the happy and grateful recipient of gifts, heart felt cards, and a wonderful restaurant meal from my own brood, it also good for me to be present with all of the women who came before me to make my day (of equality, freedom, and relative ease) possible.  It is also important for me to remain in solidarity with all the women of the world for whom those gifts of liberty have not yet been given.  Complacency is an insidious and  lethal anesthetic. 

I will hold my joys and  sorrows as a mother together with the joys and sorrows of those past and present with my whole heart.

Hymn of the Day: The Battle Hymn of the Rebuplic by Julia Ward Howe  (not imagery for the meek or mild, but rather a call to action) 

Quote from the Hymn of the Day: “He is coming like the morning on the glory of the wave/He is wisdom to the mighty/He is honor to the brave/His Truth is marching on….”

*An historical side note: (Julia’s husband, Samuel Howe, was the founder of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA and her maternal grandfather, Willilam Greene, was the governor of Rhode Island).  Religiously, she was both a Unitarian and member of the Society of Friends.

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