Birthdays, Thanksgiving, or July 4th celebrations all have histories. So too does Mothers Day, yet we do not hear of it very often. Before the Civil War, Anna Jarvis began organizing women around public health issues. Following the Civil War’s carnage, Julia Ward Howe issued a proclamation calling on all womanhood throughout the world to resist war and become peace activists.
In the 1900s, Anna’s daughter, also named Anna Jarvis, wanted to honor her mother’s work with a “Mothers Day.” President Wilson in 1914 declared a national celebration focusing on women’s work in the home, thereby sidelining women’s civic activism.
One hundred years ago, on April 6, 1917, Wilson urged Congress to send troops to the Allies in Europe for the Great War that was tearing apart Europe, effectively changing the course of history to militarism, not negotiated peacemaking. Feminists of the time marched to tell Congress “No.” (NY Times, Michael Kazin, 6 April 2017, p. A27.)
For me, remembering my mother and her grief around two beloved brothers affected by WWII is instructive. Mom created a peaceful life and always contributed to the life of her community. This is what mothers and women do; I remember hearing, “Take turns, cooperate, remember lovingkindness.” Reflecting on history helps us to know ourselves in new ways and perhaps change the course of our lives. Mothers Day can be a time of engagement, sharing a meal, and telling history.
Mary Rose Lambke
Oak Park resident and member of Mothers and Others For Peace