Today I want to share a short history of “Mothers’ Day, as I believe it adds important meaning to our celebration of motherhood.
Taken from Heather Cox Richardson ... Letters from an American:
Mothers’ Day actually started in the 1870s, when Julia Ward Howe had a new vision. She was a talented poet and writer who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic in the early years of the Civil War, and whose lyrics made point that Christ was “born of woman.” She was drawn to women’s rights because the laws of her time meant that her children belonged to her abusive husband and if she left him, she would lose any rights to see her children, something he threw at her whenever she threatened to leave him. She was not at first a radical in the women’s movement under Elizabeth Cady Stanton who fought for women’s right to equality with men, but believed that women, as mothers had a special role to perform in the world.
She found war traumatic and after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, she remembered: “I was visited by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone know and bear the cost?”
Howe had a new vision, she said, of “the august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities.” She sat down immediately and wrote an “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World.” Men always had and always would decide questions by resorting to “mutual murder.” But women did not have to accept this state of affairs, she wrote. Mothers could command their sons to stop the madness.
It was the enormity of loss caused by the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War that convinced American women that women must take control of politics from the men who had permitted such carnage. But out of the war also came a new sense of empowerment. Women had bought bonds, paid taxes, raised money for the war effort, managed farms, harvested fields, worked in war industries, reared children, and nursed soldiers. When the war ended, they had every intention of continuing to participate in national affairs. But the Fourteenth Amendment, which established that African American men were citizens, did not include women. In 1869, women organized the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association and the American Woman’s Suffrage Association to promote women’s right to have a say in American government.
From her home in Boston, Julia Ward Howe was a key figure in the American Woman’s Suffrage Association.
"Arise, women! Howe commanded. 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.”
Mothers’ Day was not designed to encourage people to be nice to their mothers. It was part of women’s effort to gain power to change modern society.
In addition to this short history, I would also like to honor the neighborhood mothers of my childhood. These beautiful women, mothers, friends, were like second mothers to me as they were always there to teach me about life. Josie Robinson Johnson taught me about civil rights and the struggles and beauty of being black. She continues to teach me today of the importance of fighting against the injustice of all people; Norma Anderson taught me about the struggles of raising a child with a disability and how they are a grace to society; Grace Wangaard, taught me how the ups and downs of life bring a richness to our lives; and my dear mother, Carol Katinka Haugen, was a champion of the poor, the elderly and single parents. We are shaped and molded by our childhood environment and I am grateful for these brave and beautiful women to have surrounded me with their teachings and love.
Wishing each of you, all women, a beautiful Mothers’ Day ~ let us not forget the power we hold as women to bring beauty and change to this beautiful world!