by Tom H. Hastings
It’s Mother’s Day.
Roses, dinner out so Mom doesn’t have to cook. A nice Hallmark card. And that sentimental gift that oozes romance, a new Hamilton Beach Innovative Alexa Enabled Coffee Maker. Gosh.
Let’s take a few minutes to peel back the curtains of history, however, to also think about the 19th century origins of Mother’s Day and the meaning imbued in the proclamation by founder Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist and author of Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The Civil War in the US was the greatest catastrophe of a young nation, with a terrible toll on everyone, record war dead, and hate that simmers still in many of the hearts of the descendants of the losing side.
With all the devastation still fresh, Europe decides it’s time for another war, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
That was the final straw for Howe. War is not glorious. It is bloody, with dead children, raped women, shot dead soldiers, and smoking rubble. Howe drew on her power of rhetoric and issued this:
Mothers’ Peace Day Proclamation
“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 sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
“From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” 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 counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
“In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”
So, yes to the flowers, the love for Mother, and the gifts of gratitude. But–no offense, Hallmark–please also imbue this day with its original meaning. Mother’s Day is a day of world peace, brought to you by women. In this era of a throwback effort to a Handmaid’s Tale dystopia, let us all truly honor and join women in their long struggles for women’s rights and peace.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is Coördinator of Conflict Resolution BA/BS degree programs and certificates at Portland State University, PeaceVoice Senior Editor, and on occasion an expert witness for the defense of civil resisters in court.