Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day and a Prayer for Peace

The American Civil War played an important role in the history of the Old West, and in the history of the creation of an American Mother's Day, as well.

In England, mothers and mothering were celebrated for many years before settlers came to America, but the tradition slowly disappeared. However, when Julia Ward Howe,author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, found herself overwhelmed by the death and destruction caused by the Civil War, she decided it was time for mothers to band together out of love foe their sons and demand peace in America. How wrote the following proclamation, demanding an end to the fighting, and calling for an international Mother's Day to celebrate the peaceful nature of mothers and their acts of nurturing and compassion:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears
Say firmly:

"We will not have great 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.

Howe was somewhat successful in her plea. Numerous women's groups celebrated Mother's Day on June 2, 1870. Eventually, all of these celebrations stopped, except for the one in Boston, which continued for another ten years.

In Virginia, however, Anna Reeves Jarvis started a campaign to celebrate the holiday with the goal of reuniting families that were divided by the war, bringing together brothers, fathers and sons who fought for the Confederate and Union armies. Jarvis's celebration was called Mother's Friendship Day, and the goal was, again, a plea for peace.

When Jarvis died, her daughter, Anna M. Jarvis, suggested that her mother's church honor her mother's dedication to peace with a Mother's Day, which they did, distributing white carnations, the favorite flower of Anna Reeves Jarvis, to every mother in the congregation. News of the celebration spread, and soon, white carnations were distributed to mothers across the country.

U.S. Senator Elmer Burkett proposed a national Mother's Day holiday in 1908. He was denied his request, but Mother's Day services continued across the country. Anna Jarvis quit her day job and became a full-time petitioner for a national day of remembrance of Mothers. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a declaration proclaiming the second Sunday in May the official Mother's Day.

Unfortunately, as the sale of flowers soared during the merry month of May, Miss Jarvis's mood plummeted. She despised the commercialization of the holiday, believing it should be honored as a day of peace, the original intention of both her mother and Julia Ward Howe. Anna M. Jarvis died in 1948, penniless from her endless dedication to first promoting, then protesting, Mother's Day without ever learning from anyone that her last days of care had been paid for by The Florist's Exchange.

As a dedicated mother and dreamer of peace, I respect the original intentions of Julia Ward Howe, Mrs. Jarvis, and her daughter, but I think their quest to preserve the intention of Mother's Day failed for two reasons. First, they failed to recognize that many men also dream of peace, despise war, and want to see their sons live long, full lives.

They also did not recognize that a gift of flowers, perfume, or whatever makes a mother happy, is a gift from the heart. It really doesn't matter what the commercials say or how much money is spent, even if the only gift is a phone call, it still comes from the heart, and mothers know this to be true. Celebrating Mother's Day, in whatever form that celebration takes place, is an unspoken promise between mothers and their children that says "I will love you forever, and I hope that forever means a long, happy, peaceful life for us all."

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