Mother’s Day for Peace

In Boston, an annual Mothers' Day Walk is organized by the e Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Click image to learn more.

In Boston, an annual Mother’s Day Walk is held to benefit the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Click image to learn more.

Mother’s Day began as a call to action to improve the lives of families through health and peace. Ann Jarvis of Appalachia founded Mother’s Day in 1858 to promote sanitation in response to high infant mortality. After the Civil War, abolitionist Julia Ward Howe made a Mother’s Day call to women to protest the carnage of war.

To explore the history and purpose of Mother’s Day, beyond the textbooks and commercial media, we offer below contemporary campaigns, the original proclamation by Julia Ward Howe, a short film called Mother’s Day for Peace, an excerpt from an article on the Appalachian origins of Mother’s Day, and an excerpt from an article called “The Original Anti-War Mother’s Day.”

Contemporary Campaigns

Mama's Bail Out (Website) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History
Mama’s Bail Out Day: Campaign to bail out as many mothers as possible for Mother’s Day.
CoMadres | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History
Co-Madres of El Salvador: Project by mothers to find missing and disappeared children.
Mama's Day (Campaign): Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History
Mamas Day: Commissioned eCards that reflects the diversity of mothers and families.



mothersday_2Mother’s Day Proclamation, 1870

By Julia Ward Howe

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.”

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.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions,

The great and general interests of peace.


Mother’s Day for Peace

The film Mother’s Day for Peace features Alfre Woodard, Gloria Steinem, Vanessa Williams, Felicity Huffman, Fatma Saleh, Ashraf Salimian, and Christine Lahti talking about why feminist and abolitionist Julia Ward Howe started Mother’s Day as a protest against war and the relevance today. The film opens with Gloria Steinem explaining

Mother’s Day really was in its origin an antiwar day, an antiwar statement. Julia Ward Howe was sickened by what had happened during the Civil War, the loss of life, the carnage, and she created Mother’s Day as a call for women all over the world to come together and create ways of protesting war, of making a kind of alternate government that could finally do away with war as an acceptable way of solving conflict.

The short film, produced by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films, was featured on Democracy Now! in a 2009 broadcast here.


Ann Jarvis.

Ann Jarvis, founder of Mothers Work Day in 1858.

Appalachian Origins

By Sharon Montgomery

If the founders of Mother’s Day saw how we celebrate this day, they would be dismayed. Ann Jarvis, founder of Mothers Work Day in 1858, created a day for mothers to work for better cleanliness and health. Because two of her children died before the age of three, Anna asked doctors in her Appalachian community to teach her how to prevent disease. On Mothers Work Day, and in Mothers Day Work Clubs throughout her county, those mothers taught others how to prepare food properly and clean their homes. This gradually improved the health of their  families.

Sadly, not all children survived. Although Ann gave birth to eleven children by 1867, only four lived to adulthood. Their lives were cut short, perhaps by childhood diseases of measles, smallpox, diphtheria, whooping cough, or tuberculosis. Infection spread easily among the mining towns and small communities. Today most of these diseases are controlled by childhood vaccinations.

Death was a constant presence in the area because of the Civil War (1861-1865). Taylor County was a major battlefield between the Union and Confederate armies. Since both sides surrounded them, Ann declared Women’s Friendship Day, convincing local mothers to be fair to both sides. They went into camps to treat the wounded and to teach sanitation and disinfection. After the war, local leaders asked these women to teach former enemies how to get along.

Julia Ward Howe, a mother, author and activist, was inspired by Ann Jarvis. Julia wrote the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic early in the war. In 1862 she and her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, joined the U.S. Sanitary Commission. More men died in the Civil War from disease in prisoner of war camps and their own army camps than died in battle. The Sanitary Commission helped to reduce those deaths later in the war.

After the war, Julia  wanted to bring an end to war and equality for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality.  She wrote the Mothers Day Proclamation, calling mothers to leave their homes for one day a year and work for peace in their communities. Julia translated her proclamation into several languages and  traveled around the world, urging all to join in a Mothers Day for Peace. On the second Sunday in June, 1872, the first Mothers Peace Day was celebrated in Boston, Massachusetts. For the next thirty years Americans celebrated this day in June.

Continue reading this article, “Is Mothers Day a Lost Cause?,” by retired Canadian teacher Sharon Montgomery on the history of Mother’s Day.



Julia Ward Howe, 1905. Howe held the first “Mother’s Day” as an anti-war observance. Photo: Underwood and Underwood.

The Original Anti-War Mother’s Day

By Gary Kohls on Common Dreams

By 1870, Julia Ward Howe had been deeply affected both by the ongoing agonies of Civil War veterans and the carnage occurring overseas in the Franco-Prussian War. Though very short, that war resulted in almost 100,000 killed in action plus another 100,000 lethally wounded or sickened.

As a humanist who cared about suffering people—as well as a feminist and a suffragette who advocated social justice—Howe penned her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870 as an appeal to mothers to spare their sons and the sons of others from the depredations of war.

The Mother’s Day Proclamation was partly a lament for the useless deaths and partly a call to action to stop future wars. The call was directed, not to men, many of whom may have felt proud for their “service,” but to women, who often have proved more thoughtful and humane about issues of human suffering.

Mother’s Day Vigil for Peace on May 11, 1963 by Voice of Women (VOW) at the Royal Ontario Museum. Photo by Toronto Telegram staff photographer B. Palmer (Peter) Ward on .

Mother’s Day Vigil for Peace by Voice of Women (VOW) at the Royal Ontario Museum on May 11, 1963. Photo B. Palmer Ward, Toronto Telegram.

Then, on June 2, 1872, in New York City, Julia Ward Howe held the first “Mother’s Day” as an anti-war observance, a practice Howe continued in Boston for the next decade before it died out.

The modern Mother’s Day, with its apolitical message, emerged in the early 20th century, with Howe’s original intent largely erased from the mainstream consciousness. Howe’s vision of an antiwar mother’s call to action was watered-down into an annual expression of sentimentality.

Continue reading full article by retired physician Dr. Gary G. Kohls on Common Dreams here.

There are 26 comments by other visitors:

  • Wow. At age 45, I had no idea. Guess it is time for a new Mother’s Day tradition.

    Response shared by Christie Capucci — May 12, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

  • If you watched any sporting events yesterday, the players were sporting PINK. I saw pink cleats, pink sweatbands, pink baseball bats, pink “necklaces” and every shade of pink golf shirt on the golfers. Mother’s Day should not be another “breast cancer day”.
    Let’s make it a day for peace. Women have loud strong voices, and they need to be heard.

    Response shared by gweduck — May 13, 2013 @ 7:07 am

  • This is very eye opening as to the origin of “Mother’s Day”. Quite different to how we celebrate and have been celebrating as far back as I can remember and I am 73 years old. Glad to know the truth of the day!

    Response shared by Pauline — May 13, 2013 @ 10:59 am

  • I am thankful for this history, these voices, and the proclamation that in someways turning away from peace unmans each from our community birthright. Leigh, May 10, 2014.

    Response shared by leigh — May 10, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

  • Patterson, Joseph
    August 20, 1863
    Mustered out with Company, Sept. 20, 1865

    Response shared by John S. Patterson — May 11, 2014 @ 11:58 pm

  • WAND, Womens’ Action for New Directions, a national membership organization, has been working for peace, Nuclear Disarmament, and electing women in decision-making positions in local and national government for well over 30 years. WAND has been celebrating Mothers’ Day to further its missions. I have been a member and Board member in hopes the world can become better and peaceful. Do join this important organization. It helps to work gaining knowledge and in camaraderie.

    Response shared by Pat Pratt — May 12, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

  • I love Mother’s Day even more now. I am proud to be of the same gender as these women. We definitely need new traditions.

    Response shared by Linda Anderson Shannon — May 12, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

  • I LOVE it! Rather than sitting back and hoping to be honored for having children women were encouraging each other to to acts of service! Perfection.

    Response shared by Stacy — May 13, 2014 @ 7:25 am

  • Don’t tell Hallmark that Mother’s Day is supposed to be anti-war and to promote better conditions for working and poor people.k. Its CEO is a major Republican Party donor.

    Response shared by Alan Singer — May 4, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

  • Thank you – from all of us who have sat in stunned sadness at a military funeral.

    Response shared by susan — May 4, 2015 @ 1:23 pm

  • As a teacher, I am so excited to be able to share this article with my 6th grade
    students. Thanks so much for sharing this knowledge. Truly, knowledge is power.

    Response shared by Roe — May 9, 2015 @ 2:44 pm

  • In the Philippines today, Mother’s Day celebration should go back to its original reason. It is still be an ANTI- WAR activity as more and more mothers in Mindanao are caught in conflicts, not of their making. Women and children suffer the most when they flee from strife and seek refuge in cold, harsh and bare evacuation centers. Let us show our solidarity with poor women who not only have to feed and care for their families but who must struggle for survival. Mothers want Peace not War!

    Response shared by Congw Luz C. Ilagan — May 10, 2015 @ 2:39 am

  • I’m 65 and was utterly clueless about the amazing truth behind Mother’s Day and how, in actual form, it must count as the start of every social justice action and movement on this earth. Thanks so much for getting this out and I will pass it along. The use of this day as a Hallmark and commercial holiday must be overridden so we can stand with our mothers for the true, spiritual and compassionate purposes that Jarvis and Howe strived for. They should have Nobel prizes.

    Response shared by Emilio Sepic — May 10, 2015 @ 9:05 am

  • For anyone that cares about life, should make this into the day it was originally established for. War is never the answer. It only means you have lost the ability to rationally break it down for someone else to grasp the gravity of it’s actions. I am no one’s mother. Yet I have raised quite a few in my day. I feel that we need to get rid of the George W.’s & Chaney’s of this country. They have money invested in fossil fuels & want to make money off the backs of our young sons. Our government has never paid them back for loosing life & limbs. There is a fund raiser through public donations with actor i.e. Bruce Willis & Ben Afleck. This is a travesty statement on our government. Bush W started 2 wars that were not accounted for nor paid off as of today which is 7 years out of office. They are maimed & in need of medical & housing. This is unconscionable. Women will be less likely to send their children off to be killed or maimed. Most men look at this as macho necessary to fight for your country. It is a horrid excuse to play war games. No one won back in the Civil War & no one has won since then. Everyone becomes a looser. My father went off to WWII & came back as a wife beating, PTS, drunkard! Who also learned to take it out on his children as well. He sure in hell didn’t win! Women need to take the lead in preventing men from making such decisions. Barak Obama is the first President in my day to step away & take a breath before declining to go to war. We need more people like this in our government.
    This is one way to honor all Women! Respecting the lives of our children and yours too!

    Response shared by Kathryn A Irwin — May 10, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

  • Thank You, Susie. I just heard Maya Angelou describe how the spirit of others is always with her. She Arrives As One, But Stands Up As 10,000.

    Response shared by Kathy MacLeodm — May 10, 2015 @ 3:35 pm

  • If women don’t do it, who will???

    Response shared by Kitty — May 10, 2015 @ 4:55 pm

  • I have a Hallmark Aversion to all holidays. After reading this I will have to think again on all of them. Common Dreams has changed my perspective. Thank You.

    Response shared by Nancy Tulley — May 10, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

  • I did not know that this was how Mother’s day came to be. It was and is a noble cause. Our world has come along way in controlling diseases, and teaching us how to live. We are out there every day in our communities, not just one day a year as Julia’s Mothers Day Proclamation calls for. Most of us woman do not stay at home any longer. Not just by choice, a lot of the time it is out of necessity. All of our holiday and special days have become very commercialized. Even though Mother’s Day was originally for anti war, I think honoring our Mother’s for all of their contributions to us and this word is something worth celebrating.

    Response shared by Lori — May 10, 2015 @ 7:54 pm

  • “Infection spread easily among the mining towns and small communities. Today most of these diseases are controlled by childhood vaccinations.” …actually, according to statistics, it was the improvements of sanitation, championed by Ann Jarvis, that led to the drastic decline and near eradication of these childhood diseases, before vaccination programs were developed in the 1950’s and 60’s. The credit goes to women like Ann for saving countless children’s lives through improved sanitation methods, not to vaccinations; a common misconception.

    Response shared by Beth — May 11, 2015 @ 10:58 pm

  • That’s what happens in time…Humans are great at forgetting. It’s how we adapt. That’s how government likes it. If you were to tell anyone in the year 2000 that they would be paying $3+ for gas when it was roughly $1.20 back then.. people would have said, “Yeah way am I paying that price”. But we are now and how we accepted it, was because it wasn’t dumped on us all at once. It was gradual. So we adapted. So adaptation occurred with the REAL meaning of Mother’s Day and again we forgot… years to come we will forget the lessons learned in the Civil War, WW I & II, Vietnam, Iraq etc. Then we will repeat our errors. Ever heard of “Evolution of Revolution”?

    Response shared by Marie O. — May 13, 2015 @ 11:43 am

  • Thank you. At 68 I am heartened to learn the REAL origins of Mothers Day! I am sharing with every young woman I know, in every way I can! Let’s take it back, honor its true meaning, and educate young people. It took TOO long to recognize the power of these women!

    Response shared by Barbara Broeske — May 8, 2016 @ 1:50 pm

  • Fascinating. a little confused though about one person in this story…here and a couple other places, it says Anna Jarvis had children, lost some to poor sanitation — elsewhere, including the history channel, it says she died in a sanitarium never having had any kids of her own and having established mother’s day for her own mom…. I’m just curious about the contradiction but guessing whichever one is not correct was just spread based on other incorrect references…

    Response shared by Alison — May 8, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

  • Oh, if only we, the U.S., could stop mothers’ daughters and sons from killing other mothers’ daughters, sons and grandchildren! When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn that we must stop war, occupation, rendition, torture, violence of poverty and racism!

    Response shared by Mother Phyllis — May 9, 2016 @ 12:25 am

  • Sharon Montgomery writes “Their lives were cut short, perhaps by childhood diseases of measles, smallpox, diphtheria, whooping cough, or tuberculosis. Infection spread easily among the mining towns and small communities. Today most of these diseases are controlled by childhood vaccinations.”
    It’s unfortunate that people are misinformed about the true history of disease and vaccination. Sewer systems, water treatment facilities, indoor plumbing, refrigeration and increased awareness of sanitation practices are the real reason for the decline of these diseases, not childhood vaccination. Don’t believe me? Then read Suzanne Humphries book “Dissolving Illusions”, a very well-documented history of disease and vaccination.

    Response shared by Ragen — May 9, 2016 @ 10:32 am

  • As long as wars are profitable, men will fight them. As long as the military promotes and glorifies combat, wars will be fought. It is a business. It is fueled by capitalism and the list for money. As long as people long for action and greed, wars will exist. As long as the military is run by men and funded by the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld via Halliburton, war will exist

    The key to ending war is to defund it. Women of the world: you not only are the mothers and sisters and daughters: you hold the purse strings – literally!

    Response shared by Debbie sitarski — May 9, 2016 @ 11:32 am

  • That is what Golda Meir said to the Arab women during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

    Response shared by Alan Lefkowitz — May 10, 2016 @ 9:26 am

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