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Strut your Mother Earth activism... in the streets... and honor your mother every day...  

MOTHER'S DAY FOR PEACE - by Ruth Rosen

Honor Mother with Rallies in the Streets. The holiday began in activism; it needs rescuing from commercialism and platitudes.

...In 1872, Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic“, proposed an annual Mother’s Day for Peace.  Committed to abolishing war, Howe wrote: “Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage... 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“.

For the next 30 years, Americans celebrated Mothers’ Day for Peace on June 2.

Many middle-class women in the 19th century believed that they bore a special responsibility as actual or potential mothers to care for the casualties of society and to turn America into a more civilized nation.  They played a leading role in the abolitionist movement to end slavery.  In the following decades, they launched successful campaigns against lynching and consumer fraud and battled for improved working conditions for women and protection for children, public health services and social welfare assistance to the poor. To the activists, the connection between motherhood and the fight for social and economic justice seemed self-evident.

In 1913, Congress declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day.  By then, the growing consumer culture had successfully redefined women as consumers for their families. As the Florists’ Review, the industry’s trade journal, bluntly put it, “This was a holiday that could be exploited.”

The new advertising industry quickly taught Americans how to honor their mothers - by buying flowers...

Imagine a Mother’s Day filled with voices demanding social and economic justice and a sustainable future, rather than speeches studded with syrupy platitudes.

Some will think it insulting to alter our current way of celebrating Mother’s Day.  But public activism does not preclude private expressions of love and gratitude. (Nor does it prevent people from expressing their appreciation all year round.)

Nineteenth century women dared to dream of a day that honored women’s civil activism.  We can do no less. We should honor their vision with civic activism.

Ruth Rosen is a professor of history at UC Davis.


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