As we recognize and celebrate Mother’s Day, let us first remember and honor Julia Ward Howe. Julia Ward Howe was heartbroken and distressed seeing the ravages of the American Civil War. She wrote “The Battle Hymn of The Republic” as a way to express her anguish and outrage, and saw this was not enough to bring about change. I see her as one of the first feminists, striving to make equality of the sexes a reality. A true visionary, she also saw that peace, the end of war as a way to resolve conflict, was equally as important.
In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war erupted, and Julia Ward Howe began to organize women, her goal to petition Congress to end all wars. A true activist, she took her campaign international, issuing a “Manifesto For Peace” at conferences in Paris and London. In 1872 she put forth and promoted the idea of a “Mother’s Day For Peace” to be celebrated on June 2 each year, and in 1873 women in 18 U.S. cities made this a reality.
Anna Jarvis was another trailblazer during the Civil War, establishing and organizing “Mother’s Work Days.” Julia Ward Howe was directly influenced by Jarvis’ tireless work and activism. Jarvis’ daughter, also named Anna, was motivated by her mother’s and Howe’s work for equality and peace, established the first “Mother’s Day” celebration in West Virginia in 1907. Through Jarvis’ activism, by 1912, 45 states had official declarations, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the celebration into law.
Within a few years, Jarvis became disappointed with the increasing commercialization of Mother’s Day. In keeping with the intentions of peace and equality and justice, the original purpose of Howe and Jarvis, I invite you to look beyond the ‘feel-good’ façade and ask yourself “how can I honor the work of these visionary and brave women? What can I do to promote peace and equality?” I encourage you to look in the mirror and affirm “Peace Begins With ME!” and then go out into the world and make a difference.
I want to point out that both Howe and Jarvis saw the power in organizing people toward a common goal. While we each have power as individuals, when we come together in a focused purpose, our energy and effect is multiplied many times over. Looking at the peace movement, I believe Howe was the first to put forth an organized effort to end war. Compare this to the thousands of years that humans have used violence and war to address conflict, we’re just now coming into our own as a force for peace. This is why it is so important to support peace-oriented organizations, both financially and physically, to keep the momentum going, to add to the consciousness of peace and nonviolence. As I requested previously, ask yourself how you can get involved, how you can support your local or national peace efforts. Know in your heart – Peace Begins with ME!