The Radical History of Mother’s Day
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. I have heard it said that, along with Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day is a holiday invented by greeting card companies and florists and chocolate makers. Although it is true that I’ve spent money on flowers and chocolate this week, the actual history of Mother’s Day is much more radical.
Mother’s Day was originally called Mother’s Peace Day. It began with a woman, with a mother, named Julia Ward Howe, who was heartbroken by the widespread death of so many husbands and sons during the American Civil War. One historian estimates that the Civil War claimed the lives of twenty percent… twenty percent, of all the men aged 18-40 in this country. Women were often left without their husbands, without their sons. And so Mother’s Peace Day began as a call to end the violence that took the lives of so many young men, and brought so many tears to the eyes of their mothers.
The declaration of Mrs. Howe on the first Mother’s Peace Day began with these words:
“Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: “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 mothers of one country, will be too compassionate to mothers of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
As I have been reflecting this week on this beautiful and tragic history of Mother’s Day, I kept thinking of a line from one of my favorite Wendell Berry Poems. Berry wrote:
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
That’s the moral compass Berry suggests we use. Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?
Jesus said that we should do unto others as we would have them do to us. Berry gives another insight – that we should treat others as their mothers would want us to treat them.