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 had ended. In her work with widows and orphans, as well as with wounded veterans on both sides, Howe witnessed the devastating long-term effects of war.
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," calling women everywhere to come together to "bewail and commemorate the dead" and to "solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace." She also called to the nation: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
For a few years, funded by Howe, women's groups across the U.S. responded to Howe's call to gather and work for peace, though Howe never succeeded in getting a national holiday declared.
Anna Jarvis brought forward Howe's vision as well as that of her mother (also named Anna Jarvis) and succeeded in establishing Mother's Day, a memorial day for women, with the first such day held 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.
This Mother's Day, it behooves us to remember the historical roots of the holiday. Mother's Day this year falls in the same week as the death of Osama bin Laden. With national celebrations and blood lust, voices like Julia Ward Howe's need to be raised up. With thousands dead on all sides in the "war on terror," we need to "bewail and commemorate the dead" and to "solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace."
Feeling relief at the death of Osama bin Laden is one thing; rejoicing in his killing is another. With this watershed event, the U.S. needs to reassess its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a perfect opportunity for the U.S. to declare victory and bring the troops home. It's time to led go of strategies of violence that breed more violence.
This Mother's Day, remember its origin as a Mother's Day for Peace. Ask yourself, "What can I do to sow seeds of peace in an atmosphere of revenge? 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?"
Remember Howe's words: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Make your Mother's Day this year a Mother's Day for Peace.
Margaret Benefiel, Ph.D., author of Soul at Work and The Soul of a Leader, works with leaders in health care, business, churches, government, and nonprofits to help them stay true to their souls. Visit her website.