Mother’s Day is currently celebrated as a festival of crass consumerism and mass produced sentiment. As such it bears nothing in common with its historical routes as a Mothers’ Peace Day. The first mother’s day was organized by Julia Ward Howe in 1873 as a protest against the American Civil War. Her Mothers’ Day Proclamation was a rallying cry to women to oppose war.
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts! Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience… And up from the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says ‘Disarm! Disarm!’
Even prior to this, in 1858, Ann Jarvis, had organised women on both sides of the civil war to observe “Mothers’ Work Days” to improve sanitation and stop disease. Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, continued her work by campaigning for a memorial day for mothers. In 1907 at her mother’s memorial service she handed out 500 white carnations, her mother’s favourite flower. On May 8, 1914, the US Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day. Woodrow Wilson declared that American citizens show the flag to honour mothers whose sons had died in war. However, when Anna Jarvis saw how this day of remembrance was subsequently hijacked to serve commercial interests, she tried to have it cancelled.
Women have historically been at the forefront of the peace movement and human rights campaigns. They were the original non-violent campaigners, securing the vote for women using civil disobedience and hunger strikes long before Gandhi had had the idea. Even before this they had been instrumental in the abolition of slavery, without resorting to the use of guns or other weapons to secure their ends, but by appealing to public feeling. This commitment to peace should be the legacy of Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day needs to be reclaimed by women as a day for the remembrance of the pain and suffering endured by mothers in times of war and also as a day for honouring the sacrifices of women in their campaigns to secure peace and human rights. In Australia, it would be fitting to honour the suffragettes that secured Australia’s place in global history as being the first place in the world to give non-indigenous women both the right to vote and the right to stand for election. It would also be fitting to honour the pain of the many Aboriginal women who have their children removed by white authorities. Finally, it should be a day when women join in campaigning against the ongoing militarism and voice solidarity with women here and abroad suffering the impacts of unbridled male violence.
For more information:
Reclaim Mothers Day as a Peace Protest
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