The Anti-War Roots of Mother’s Day


May 9, 2010 by Tariq Khan

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there!

What many people don’t know is that Mother’s Day actually got it’s start as a statement against war. Julia Ward Howe, ironically best known for writing the words to “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, wanted women to get together to finally put an end to the idiotic game men play called war.

“Mother’s Day really was in its origin an antiwar day, an antiwar statement. Julia Ward Howe was sickened by what had happened during the Civil War, the loss of life, the carnage, and she created Mother’s Day as a call for women all over the world to come together and create ways of protesting war, of making a kind of alternate government that could finally do away with war as an acceptable way of solving conflict.” (Gloria Steinem, 2009, on Democracy Now!)

Here is the Mother’s Day Proclamation written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870.

Mother’s Day Proclamation
by Julia Ward Howe – 1870

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 answered 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.”

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 often forsaken the plough 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 own 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,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And 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.


5 thoughts on “The Anti-War Roots of Mother’s Day

  1. Ron Madson says:

    thank you Tariq. I had no idea. Love to see this taught in Sacrament meeting

    • Joseph says:


      It would definitely be better than yet another talk taking the “strippling warriors” story out of context.

  2. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    more like that was an attempt to start Mothers day. The version of mothers day that stuck was the non political version created by Anna Jarvis of West Virginia in 1908.

  3. tariq says:

    Yes, Anna Jarvis is the person who started the process which resulted in President Woodrow Wilson, in 1914, signing a congressional resolution to officially make Mother’s Day a national holiday, and yes, by that time the day had been stripped of any of its original anti-war flavor, but most scholars of U.S. history recognize Julia Ward Howe as being the first American woman to proclaim Mother’s Day. Howe was a very interesting woman. Besides being a poet and a pacifist, she was also an abolitionist and a feminist, very involved with the fight for women’s suffrage, among other progressive causes of her time.

    I am glad that you brought up Anna Jarvis, however, because she too was a very interesting woman in her own right. By the 1920s she was very disappointed with what Mother’s Day had become. In her view, it was far too commercial and superficial; nothing like the meaningful, true honoring of motherhood that she had originally envisioned. She once commented that she wished she had never worked to make it an official holiday to beging with, and she was actually arrested for “disturbing the peace” while she was protesting the capitalist hijacking of Mother’s Day. So even Anna Jarvis wasn’t as apolitical as she may seem on the surface.

    In any case, I find Julia Ward Howe’s “Mother’s Day Proclamation” to be a beautifully written, powerfully moving statement against war, and something well worth remembering on Mother’s Day.

  4. Will Denam says:

    i had no idea either. my understanding of Mother’s day lies in the Congressional resolution enacted during the Wilson administration. the fact that it ias its roots in pacifism makes the day more special.

    thank you for posting this, Tariq. very enlightening.

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