The Seeds of Mother’s Day: A Proclamation for Peace

This article was written by members of the local Pax Christi chapter in the Metro DC and Baltimore area.

 “Every mother is like Moses. She does not enter the promised land.

She prepares a world she will not see.”

Pope Paul VI

More than 130 years ago, noted American activist Julia Ward Howe first proposed the concept of Mother’s Day. Howe was a prominent abolitionist who served as one of the catalysts promoting emancipation of slaves and, later, women’s suffrage.

A woman of deep religious conviction, Howe became increasingly convinced that war was an inappropriate means for furthering her social justice ideals and believed that these issues, which she cared deeply about, should instead be pursued nonviolently.

With men throughout the Nation getting more and more engaged in a bloody Civil war, Howe proposed the Mother’s Day annual “friendship” gathering as an appeal to fellow mothers from both the North and South, who did not yet have voting rights, to unite and issue passionate demands for their husbands and sons to disarm and seek peace.

In her inaugural Mother’s Day proclamation, she wrote,

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. Our husbands will 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, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

Howe’s vision was practiced internationally for the rest of her life with modest success and served as the spark for Anna Jarvis who later became the champion for getting the holiday national recognition in 1908. Jarvis became disillusioned at the commercialization of the commemoration and would spend much of her remaining life, through boycotts, lawsuits and protests, trying to restore the holiday back to the peace-promoting roots established by Howe.

While today’s Mother’s Day commemoration no longer fully captures Howe’s mission, her efforts live on today with Catholics in the Pax Christi movement. Specifically, the organization grew out of a similar call by French and German Catholics who were searching for reconciliation following World War II.

On this important day, we express our appreciation to pioneers like Howe who promoted and championed the cause of peace. And just as importantly, we wish to thank and honor the mothers, grandmothers and caregivers in our parish family for their tireless work to bring charity, mercy and patience…those seeds of peace….to our hearts, homes and world.

Weekly Reflections on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.