Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1862, began working to heal the wounds of the Civil War once the war ended. By 1870 Howe had become convinced that working for peace was just as important as her efforts working for equality as an abolitionist and suffragette. In that year she penned her “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” exhorting women to:
“Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall 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 women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says ‘Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’”
For a few years, women’s groups across the U.S., funded by Howe, responded to Howe’s call to gather and work for peace, though Howe never succeeded in getting a national holiday declared.
Anna Jarvis brought Howe’s vision forward, as well as that of her mother (also named Anna Jarvis), and succeeded in establishing Mother’s Day, with the first such day celebrated in a West Virginia church in 1907. Mother’s Day was declared by Woodrow Wilson as a national holiday in the U.S. in 1914 and in Canada a year later.
Honoring the origin of Mother’s Day, the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Boston sponsors an annual Mother’s Day walk for peace to end urban violence. Tina Chery founded the Institute in 1996 when she lost her son to gun violence, and the Mother’s Day walk marks its 17th year this Sunday.
Chery believes that mothers need to work for peace in response to urban violence in the U.S. just as much as they need to work for peace internationally, since domestic gun deaths since 1979 number far more than all U.S. war casualties in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined.
The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute supports survivors of homicide victims and has developed a peace curriculum for area schools: “Through education, collaboration, and policy advocacy, the Peace Institute works to raise awareness of the cause and consequences of violence on the individual, the family, and the community.”
Last month, faith leaders in Washington witnessed to the more than 3,300 gun deaths since the Newtown tragedy, calling for sensible gun laws. Since then, the post-Newtown gun death tally has reached over 3,975, and Congress still has not devised a plan to address the problem.
This Mother’s Day, remember Howe’s words: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword [or gun] of murder is not the balance of justice.” Ask yourself, “What can I do to sow seeds of peace in an atmosphere of violence? How can I speak up when I am uneasy with the words of those around me? What is my part in influencing my legislative representatives, my president?” This year remember Mother’s Day’s origin as a Mother’s Day for Peace.