Mother’s Day: Where Women and Peace Come Together
For Mother's Day we would like to share these words by scholar Dorothy May Emerson on Julia Ward Howe, a founder of Mother's Day:
CALLING WOMEN TO WORK FOR PEACE: JULIA WARD HOWE
Excerpt from a speech by Dorothy May Emerson
(Given in various locations, 2003-04)
The violence and loss of life caused by the Civil War raised the consciousness of American women about the realities of armed conflict. When other wars broke out in Europe soon thereafter, women began to take action.
One of the first of these peace activists was Julia Ward Howe. In her autobiography, Reminiscences, she reveals the origins of her idea for Mother’s Peace Day. Distressed by reports of the carnage of the Franco-Prussian war, she writes:
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 seen 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 bear and know the cost?' I had never thought of this before. The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities now appeared to me in a new aspect, and I could think of no better way of expressing my sense of these than that of sending forth an appeal to womanhood throughout the world, which I then and there composed.
Her appeal to women of the world was translated into five European languages, widely distributed, and led to her extensive correspondence with women leaders in a number of countries. In 1872 she traveled to England hoping to hold a Women’s Peace Congress there.
She tried to speak at the English Peace Society, but was refused because women never had spoken at their meetings before. The Rev. William Henry Channing was in London at the time and suggested her as a speaker at a public banquet of the Unitarian Association. Encouraged by the positive response to her speech about peace work, she decided to hire a hall, the Freemasons' Tavern, advertised the meeting, and held it on a Sunday afternoon. Attendance was good and she continued to give speeches in that venue for the next five or six weeks.
Although her organizing efforts did not lead to a major international gathering, she was successful in inspiring local gatherings of women in at least eight states and several European cities. Local meetings seemed to be more realistic at that time because few women had the means or freedom to travel long distances. In her autobiography, she reflects on the experience:
I had desired to institute a festival which should be observed as mothers' day, and which should be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines. I chose for this the second day of June, this being a time when flowers are abundant, and when the weather usually allows of open-air meetings. I had some success in carrying out this plan. In Boston I held the Mothers' Day meeting for quite a number of years. The day was also observed in other places, once or twice in Constantinople, and often places nearer home. My heart was gladdened, this last year , by learning from a friend that a peace association in Philadelphia still celebrates Mothers' Day.
I was very sorry to give up this special work, but in my prosecution of it I could not help seeing that many steps were to be taken before one could hope to effect any efficient combination among women. The time for this was at hand, but had not yet arrived.
Her goals were at least partially accomplished. Future international congresses would look back to her work as the beginning of the women’s peace movement.
 Julia Ward Howe, Reminiscences 1819-1899 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1900), 328.
 Ibid., 336.