Origin of Mother’s Day born of desire for peace
FEMALE activists who campaigned for peace and human rights were the inspiration behind creation of Mother's Day, which was first celebrated 100 years ago.
"As I was revolving these matters in my mind, while the war was still in progress, 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 being one which might easily been settled without bloodshed."
This quote from Julia Ward Howe is cited as the background for the initial Mother's Day Proclamation in 1870, born of her call to women to "take counsel with each other (so that) the great human family can live in peace."
Over the decades, the initial focus morphed through pacifism, workers' rights and finally fused itself on the role of the mother as the nurturer of new life, the bond of solidarity in the family and the one whose voice should always cry for peace and justice.
In 1908, Anna Jarvis took up the cause of her mother, Ann, who had organized women to campaign for sanitation and medical care for both sides during the Civil War. The daughter publicized Mother's Day with a celebration in Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, Grafton, W.Va., attended by more than 400 children with their mothers.
But it was two men who helped the cause expand: John Wanamaker and Joyce Hall. The first was a philanthropist and advertiser giving money to publicize the campaign. The second fellow, with his brother, founded Hallmark Cards, and raised the day to a national celebration by providing greeting cards special for the occasion. The florists and candy makers were not far behind.
So, from peace through workers' rights to admiration and gratitude, Mother's Day ranks as the first- or second-busiest day each year for phone calls, mailed presents and restaurant visits, as measured by the commercial market analysts.
But another phenomenon paralleled this growth. Mothers have children: Mother's Day has given birth to so many other celebratory days to remember fathers, secretaries, you-name-it. Yet the originator Anna Jarvis became skeptical, even distressed at the rampant commercialization.
So what's a mother to do? Admiration and gratitude flow in two directions, and all of our religious traditions make of gratefulness a virtue to be developed. Some traditions even give us examples of how motherhood should be lived so as to be honored by the children.
And what of the human condition, which brings some pain or distress around such celebrations? Even those sentiments can be assuaged by our religious traditions, which teach us patience, understanding and forgiveness.
My own mother lived to her 92nd year, and for the last 12 years, we were the best of friends. Before that? There was great respect, never a profound argument, but the magnitude of her personality covered all the details of her life, and my sisters and I were in that shadow of her career on the stage. All of our visitors during our childhood were totally enchanted by her, not always our sentiments at the time.
Which brings me to the gift of time. How good it was my mother lived long enough that our relationship mellowed. Time brought healing. On the other hand, has time helped the celebration of Mother's Day now caught into pressures and purchasing frenzy? Time has separated it from its initial purpose.
My mother belonged to the Anna Jarvis school of thought and chose not to celebrate Mother's Day. My yearly grade school project was not proffered to her, and when moving out of my childhood home, I remember finding several undelivered cards from primary art projects. Time is so healing that when I recalled that experience to her in her 90s, she couldn't imagine that she would have been that insensitive. "Although I have never been a fan of the day, I would have been pleased with your efforts." And so insight on both sides of the equation provided the sediment of time to heal the bond.
Mostly Mother's Day celebrates the gift of life and its continuity, making it the annual event of reflection. We are born, we grow, we appreciate and we reflect. Most of all we harbor that spark of life which the next generation carry, torchlike, into a still troubled world where no mother wants her child to be fodder for war.
Sister Joan Chatfield, of the Maryknoll religion order, is executive director of the Institute for Religion and Social Change and is involved in All Believers Network, the Interfaith Alliance Hawaii, John 17:21 Ministry and other interreligious gatherings.