Mother's Day roots: peace, non-violence, equality

Opinion: Columns

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By Jerry Parker

Julia Ward Howe, author of the lyrics to "Battle Hymn of the Republic," is also known for her eloquent, stirring "Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World," which she published in 1870. It remains well-known today as the "Mother's Day Proclamation."

With men embroiled in the bloody, flesh-torn, bone-splintered mire of their usual solution to deep conflict — war — Julia remembered the death, disease, grisly horrors and terrible suffering she and husband had encountered when they volunteered while the Civil War raged: They helped feed, clothe, nurse and improve sanitation for the needy of both North and South. More soldiers died from disease due to lack of sanitation than from battle.

From Julia's appeal: 

"Our husbands will not come to us, reeking of 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 the woman of one country will be too tender of those from another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

"From … devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, 'Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.'

"Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. Let women leave … home for a great and earnest day of council. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace. …

"In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be … held to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."

The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, the year Julia's appeal was published. In 1872 she went to London hoping to help found an international women's peace congress but was unable to, as women's suffrage was the prime concern of the conference organizers. 

Back in Boston, she initiated a Mothers' Peace Day on June's second Sunday and organized it for a number of years.

In 1908, Julia became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

If Julia had lived longer, she would have been at Jane Addams' side in 1915 helping found the Women's Peace Party in the U.S. and the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom, when more than 1,100 women from warring and neutral nations met in the Hague, Netherlands.

In 1910, she was honored at her memorial service by 4,000 people singing the "Battle Hymn" lyrics.

At that service, I hope Julia's appeal was proclaimed as well, or at least amply quoted. And I hope my contemporaries are inspired by her appeal to struggle a bit more for a war-free world.

It hurt to miss the May 12 discussion of Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation; would someone from League of Women's Voters or 19th Century Charitable Association discuss that discussion with me?

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