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
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!