by Melodie Davis
for release May 12, 2000
What if Mother's Day Was Devoted to Peace?
I'm not a big fan of Mother's Day. Too many expectations, too much syrup, maybe too much hypocrisy.
So I was pleased to learn more background about Julia Ward Howe, one of the persons who had a lot to do with the founding of Mother's Day. Her intentions went a lot deeper than a greeting card. Of course, various other women and men also contributed to its establishment. But did you know that probably the very first Mother's Day advocate promoted it as a day "devoted to the advocacy of peace"?
Howe visited a Union army camp during the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) where she was horrified by the carnage of war. She asked herself, what mother or father tenderly nurtures a son for 16-18 years only to have him wasted on a battlefield?
Her best-known poem, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" became one of those mixtures of rousing hymn and battle song. But she wrote another poem, which was her original call for a "Mother's Day," and it is a stirring call to peace.
By Julia Ward Howe
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears!
Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies:
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.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our songs to be trained to injure theirs.
>From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own; it says, "Disarm, disarm!"
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow 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
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the
great human family can live in peace..."
Howe was an author, poet, mother, and advocate for better treatment for the disabled, those with mental illness, and the imprisoned. She was married to Samuel Gridley Howe, editor of the Boston Commonwealth, a short-lived antislavery paper, and they had several children.
Howe's idea for Mother's Day was to mobilize women against the policies that led to injustice and war. In her book, Reminiscences, (Boston, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1899), she wrote, "Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of human life which they alone bear and know the cost?" Realizing it would require fundamental change to end war, she later wrote, "Let the fact of human brotherhood be taught to the babe in the cradle, let it be taught to the despot on the throne. Let it be the basis and foundation of education and legislation."
I could be cynical and say we haven't come very far in 100 years. Yet, we have made progress: the U.S. this year considered establishing a Department of Peace (to go along with the Defense Department). While peace efforts frequently lose ground, overall some movement has been achieved in many of the world's long running trouble spots: Northern Ireland, the Middle East, South Africa. We need to get to the place where war is as unthinkable as slavery, as barbaric as dueling.
Perhaps the highest tribute we could pay mothers everywhere is to work to save the flesh of our flesh from ever having to go to war, choosing tough negotiations over bloodshed. It won't happen tomorrow, but it can begin to happen as we change our attitudes toward war as a solution to conflict.
For a free book of true stories, They Loved Their Enemies by Marian Hostetler, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 675 words; end material = 105 words
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