We can first thank our mothers on this Mother’s Day.
Then we can thank Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis for their efforts in making it a holiday.
It dates back to 1870, when Howe wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation of Peace.
After witnessing the carnage of the American Civil War and the start of the Franco-Prussian War, Julia Ward Howe, a prominent American abolitionist, feminist and poet wrote the original Mother’s Day Proclamation calling upon the women of the world to unite for peace.
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Howe was influenced by another peace activist, Anna Reeves Jarvis, a West Virginia woman who organized Mother’s Day Work Clubs before the Civil War.
Women in the clubs raised money for medicine and inspected bottled milk and food. They also hired helpers for families in which the mothers had tuberculosis.
During the Civil War, the Mother’s Day Work Clubs declared their neutrality, cared for the wounded and fed and clothed soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
After the Civil War, Jarvis staged a Mother’s Friendship Day at the courthouse in Pruntytown, W.Va., to bring together people who supported the Confederacy and people who supported the Union. (New England Historical Society)
Anna Reeves Jarvis died at 72 in Pennsylvania on May 9, 1905. Julia Ward Howe died five years later, at age 91 in Portsmouth, R.I., Four years after her death, President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day a national holiday. But not for peace.
Anna Reeves Jarvis’ daughter, Anna Jarvis, finally succeeded in founding the Mothers’ Day holiday. She held a memorial for her mother on May 10, 1908, at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, W.Va.
Anna Jarvis continued to campaign for a Mother’s Day holiday until President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation on May 8, 1914.
Although Jarvis had promoted the wearing of a white carnation as a tribute to one’s mother, the custom developed of wearing a red or pink carnation to represent a living mother or a white carnation for a mother who was deceased.
Over time the day was expanded to include others, such as grandmothers and aunts, who played mothering roles. What had originally been primarily a day of honor became associated with the sending of cards and the giving of gifts.
However, in protest against its commercialization, Jarvis spent the last years of her life trying to abolish the holiday she had brought into being. (Britannica)
We typically don’t recognize Howe for her Mother’s Day Peace Day; rather, we acknowledge other accomplishments of hers including writing a song during the Civil War.
By November 1861, the early enthusiasm of the Civil War had faded into a grim appreciation of the magnitude of the struggle.
Julia Ward Howe joined a party inspecting the condition of Union troops near Washington DC. To overcome the tedium of the carriage ride back to the city, Howe and her colleagues sang army songs, including “John Brown’s Body.”
One member of the party, Reverend James Clarke, liked the melody but found the lyrics to be distinctly un-elevated. The published version ran “We’ll hang old Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree,” but the marching men sometimes preferred, “We’ll feed Jeff Davis sour apples ‘til he gets the diarhee.”
The next day, Howe awoke to the gray light of early morning. As she lay in bed, lines of poetry formed themselves in her mind. When the last verse was arranged, she rose and scribbled down the words with an old stump of a pen while barely looking at the paper.
She fell back asleep, feeling that “something of importance had happened to me.” The editor of the Atlantic Monthly, James T. Fields, paid Howe five dollars to publish the poem. (The Atlantic)
“It’s a good march,” says Sparky Rucker. A folk singer and historian who performs a show of Civil War music with his wife, Rucker says it rallies with its rhythm: “It’s just the right cadence to march along, if you’re marching at a picket line or marching down the street carrying signs. … It really gets your blood going [so] that you can slay dragons.” (NPR)
On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to speak in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee (his I’ve been to the Mountaintop speech). “I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” King announced.
“And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.” And then he closed in his lyrical voice: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir won the Award for Best Pop Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus singing this song in 1959 (not this rendition).