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Did You Know Mother’s Day was Founded as a Feminist Anti-War Protest Day?

On Red Room, we probably have more feminist writer moms than any other online community, so happy Mother’s day to all of you! In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, the famous writer, poet, and suffragist made her famous Mother’s Day Proclamation: 

“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall 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 women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’

From the bosom of a 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.

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. 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, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.” 

-Julia Ward Howe
Boston 1870  

Although Howe campaigned internationally for her aims and an International Women’s Peace Congress, her vision for a special day never achieved official recognition. Decades later, a woman named Anna Jarvis, who had lost her mother in 1905, campaigned for a national Mother’s Day on which adult children showed gratitude to their mothers.

Also an active feminist like Julia Ward Howe, both women viewed homemakers’ right as central to feminism—feminism always has stood for homemakers’ rights, even 1970s second-wave feminism held this as a core tenet, despite the media’s confusion about this.  Regardless, appreciating your mom, rather than protesting war, was less political, and so this incarnation of Mother’s Day caught on more easily.

So in 1914, President Wilson made it an official national holiday. Jarvis never had children, which may be good, because I can just imagine the attitude of children whose mother’s cause in life was to make children grateful for their mothers.  Anyway, within a few years after the holiday was created, Anna Jarvis said she regretted it because it had been co-opted by merchants and become extremely commercial, rather than a day of gratitude and respect for women and homemaking.  

Now, I know Red Room has an international membership that may want to add something in the comments about the ancient Greek and Roman goddess worship and spring rites having to do with motherhood that predate this American history. Please do. And the UK has “Mothering Sunday,” with its depressing history—it was, for a couple of centuries, the time that servant children would get to go home and visit their mothers.

It’s a much older tradition in the UK and rooted in Christianity, honoring the Virgin Mary (although it may be one of those pagan goddess holidays that got a new name after the conversion). Also because it’s British there is a fruit cake with a funny name involved and that is purported to keep just fine for months. Again, please add something to the comments if you’re from the UK and can offer some insights. Some form of Mother’s Day is celebrated in dozens of countries all over the world.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing for Mother’s Day or what you think about it, or if you can educate me and our community about its history. I was born and raised here in San Francisco, so what I’m doing is stereotypical of my time and place. We’re taking my mom to an old restaurant with a water view.  

We’ll give her jewelry we bought from a socialist gem shop that gives 100% of their profits to children’s science education; my mom teaches social science and will be really excited about this. My mom will order only from the gluten-free menu. (In San Francisco, even eighty-year-old waiters are used to answering questions about what’s gluten-free.) At her request, we will congratulate my mom on her ability to color-match an entire outfit including jewelry and accessories.

But mostly, I will be lucky to have an excuse to celebrate my mother’s unwavering love, joy, and hope for me and for all living things that can only be compared to what a religious person would call the grace of god.  I really lucked out in the mom department and as a result, I think, was able to become the radical feminist I am, because feminism is about love, joy, and hope for me and all living things.

Also because of my mom, there was a high bar for what love meant, and so I lucked out again, holding out for a man as great as my husband to share life with, and to learn to practice grace with, forever.  Happy Mother’s Day to everyone on Red Room! 

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I did wonder the origins of US Mother's Day,

so thanks, Ivory.

Mother's Day in England is nothing so inspirational. It is always the fourth Sunday in Lent, a break from the austerity of the season. It was the day when those who had gone into service, or were working away from home - a good chunk of the population - were allowed time off to visit their mothers. It was linked to our, now forgotten, Lady Day  (March 25 ) in memory of the Virgin's  Annunciation.

The congregation would swell in the 'home' parish church who insisted - and still does - on calling the day 'Mothering Sunday'.

I just love the idealism of the American Dream and that nothing seems to stop you from clinging to it. We have a lot to learn.

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How Lucky Can Red Room Members Get!

Dear Ivory,

 Back in February,2010 Huntington responded to a greeting of mine with a very gracious response. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. However, the joy has now been matched with your blog. Initially when I first joined Red Room I was really impressed with the creativity and humor of the video of Huntington seated properly extolling the virtues of Red Room and you sidelining him with directions.(I hope that I remember the content correctly)Now to have you detail the history of Mothers' Day is a WOW moment for me. Also, for you to share personal reflections about things that probably most of us wanted to know about you, well I'm going to call it an Irish blessing.

As for me and my family, we celebrated together at my apartment with a long visit and dinner.My youngest Granddaughter is one and although she is well behaved in restaurants,even with reservations there usually is quite a wait on Mothers'Day.It was more relaxing staying at home. However, serving carrots as the vegetable side dish did not appeal to my 5 year old Grandson.I've tried to convince him that carrots are good for his vision. Always when he asks why, I respond with, did you ever see a rabbit with glasses? He laughs heartily, and for now this is good marketing. Soon I'm afraid the time frame will be up.

Your Mother really sounds like a treasure.So that old expression of apples don't fall far from the tree really rings true in your case.(This is really not that literary of an expression but understand I am commenting to one of the big heroes of Red Room>>>so,I'm a little nervous. And what a great name >>> Ivory. Also, to extol the virtues of your great love and marriage is really heartwarming. I'm a die hard romantic.

Thank you Ivory and Huntington for being such a positive force behind the dynamics of the whole Red Room experience. You have created such a rich tapestry for us!

 Mary Walsh

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Dear Ivory and ladies,

I read Julia Ward Howe blinded by tears; I had to wait a few moments to see again. I never speak of my feminism or call myself radical, but I am entirely of parallel bent. I took my mother to NYC on Mother's Day to meet with her 3 college classmates who live in NYC, Princeton Junction and Boston. Mom has not seen some of them for 50 years. They were radical for their time, because all 4 women received college education when it was rare in Taiwan for girls to go to school. My mother is 1/2 Hakka. I have to say I am proud to be 1/4 Hakka, the tribe of Chinese who were pushed out of Northern China 1,700 years ago by the Huns (Xiongnu) and ultimately became nomads of the sea, because they met with hostility every inch of the way. Hakka women did not bind their feet, and families pooled money to send their daughters to school. I'm posting your blog on FB. I know it will find a lot of appreciative readers.

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Deborah Grabien
author of the Haunted Ballad series, the Kinkaid Chronicles, six standalone novels, numerous short fiction and essays, and a lot of snippy opinions.

Howe was an astonishing woman, wasn't she?

(Unlike Belle, my feminism is furious, strident and would probably be considered radical in some circles. I don't consider it radical, because I don't consider having been born with a vagina particularly radical, especially when you consider that we're the majority of the world population, but what do I know? I'm just a girl.)

I have no pretty stories to share about my own mother; she was difficult, unloveable, fairly unlikeable, and occasionally violent. She was also completely uncompromising and about as nurturing by nature as cement - most of which could quite fairly be said about me. We set each other off on a regular basis; not surprising, since each of us saw what we didn't like about ourselves reflected in the other. Unlike me, she never seemed to understand that.

As a mother myself, I rather hope my daughter likes me at least slightly better than I liked her grandmother. She and I, unlike my mother and I, are very different people, and we tend to do our bonding over shallow things: pedicures and shopping, and the occasional movie with no teeth (my choice, not hers; I'm too old to enjoy being harrowed anymore). But beyond that, nothing warm and fuzzy to share.

I'm quite pleased for all the strong mother-daughter relationships I do see out there. May they live long, and prosper.

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Anne Lamott's Article at Salon.com

Dear Ivory,

Thank you for bringing Julie Ward Howe's 1870 proclamation to our attention. It is a stunning document. Your post is filled with the kind of love which makes one feel enriched from having read it.

Anne Lamott's article at Salon.com -- thanks, Jennifer -- is indeed a perfect companion piece. Ivory, each of you emphasizes different aspects of the Mother's Day hoax, and offers healing and healthy ways to honor those who embody what a mother does.

In my experience, what a mother does includes embracing and healing the inner child, as well as raising other people's children when they cannot do so themselves.

A friend of mine grew tired of waiting for the perfect man to appear and several years ago flew to the People's Republic of China to receive a baby girl on her own. That fragile infant is now a glowing eight-year old, and I recently sent my hard-working single friend a special Mother's Day card.


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Updated May 11, 2013

Just to extend my comment above - the celebration of Mother's Day in the UK is still the fourth Sunday in Lent.

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The rise and fall of Mother's day in Israel

Thank you Ivory for this enlightening post. 

When I was growing up we celbrated  Mother's Day in my home town --Haifa on the third day  of Hanukah. Haifa was a socialist city and we did things our own way. The rest of the country celebrated this day in the spring on the day that Henrietta Szold died. Szold had no biological children, but her organization, Youth Aliya rescued many Jewish children from Nazi Germany and provided for them. She also championed for children's rights. 

In the 1990s the holiday has become "Family day" and I am yet to meet the mother who appreciates this change.