09 May 2009

honor your mother's day

In her Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, Julia Ward Howe (the Unitarian author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) began by saying:

“Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
‘We will not have great questions decided 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.’”

Whoa! Hold on! That sounds like she actually intended Mother’s Day to mean something! At least, she intended it to mean something more than buying candy and flowers. She continues:

“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.’
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.”

As should be painfully apparent, Julia’s vision of Mother’s Day never caught on. A few decades later, Anna Jarvis came on the scene, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for the observance of the day. Unfortunately, Anna came to regret her life’s work in promoting the holiday. She became disgusted with the rampant commercialism surrounding it. “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit,” Jarvis complained, dismissing greeting cards as “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.”

A story is told about Jarvis’ “going to the tea room at [the Philadelphia] Wanamaker’s store one year at Mother’s Day. When Jarvis noticed a ‘Mother’s Day Salad’ on the menu, she ordered it, dumped it on the floor, got up and left.” (I sometimes joke with my wife that I’ll tell a restaurant’s staff that I’m refusing a certain dish for “political reasons.” I guess that’s what Anna Jarvis did—unless the people thought she had a grudge against her mother!)

(The image is Picasso’s Mother and Child.)

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