I came across this thing I wrote for Mother’s Day last year. I had largely forgotten about it, but on rereading it, I realized that my production of Richard III is completely based on these ideas. Most notably this quotation from “The Mother’s Day Proclamation,” by Julia Ward Howe: “Let [mothers] meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.”
So I’m putting this here in the hopes that I will find it and remember it in a more timely fashion the next time someone asks me to do a play about how war is bad for children and other living things. Here we go:
Alright, ya’ll. Buckle up, because I’m doublefisting mimosas and about to do some Mother’s Day Drunk History.*
If you grew up in WV, you probably learned all about dear sweet Anna Jarvis from Grafton, who loved her mama so much that she badgered Woodrow Wilson into making it a holiday (fun fact–both Jarvis and Wilson lived in Staunton, VA, although I believe at different times. Wilson was born there and lived there as a small child, and Jarvis went to school right next door to his old house, at what is now Mary Baldwin University).
But did you know WHY Jarvis thought that establishing Mother’s Day would be the greatest way to honor her mom? To find that out, you have to shift your gaze to her mom, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who was the founder of the Mother’s Day Work Clubs, which were part of a bigger feminist pacifist movement bringing together mothers of men who had fought on opposite sides of the Civil War.
Around this time, Julia Ward Howe (most famous for writing the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) authored the Mother’s Day Proclamation, calling for women around the world to put their foot down about this war nonsense.
The whole thing is worth a read, but if you are in a hurry, here are a few of the best lines:
“Arise, all women who have hearts […] Say firmly : […] Our husbands shall 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, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
“Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.”
I mean, that is some next-level language, am I right?
So, Ann Reeves Jarvis was involved in work related to that of Julia Ward Howe, and lots of other ladies (it’s complicated and all wrapped up together–suffrage, abolition, pacifism, temperance, etc). And then she died and her daughter took just the tiniest piece of all this and decided to push every level of government into creating a holiday to honor moms, because what politician wants to be on the record as voting against MOMS, right?
In order to get this through at scale, though, Anna Jarvis had to tone down some of the politically complicated POINT of her mom’s work.
It should also be noted that (1) Lots of Protestant churches at this time had particular Sundays when they publicly recognized and gave thanks for different sorts of people, so they had “Children’s Sunday” and, among others, “Mothering Sunday,” and (2) Anna Jarvis denied knowing anything about Julia Ward Howe or any other movements around honoring moms in the US or around the world. She went to her grave insisting that she was the first person to ever have the idea that we should make a special holiday honoring mothers.
ALSO (how’s this for unsurprising and yet also interesting): Jarvis was SUUUUPER distressed by how commercial Mother’s Day became. Fav quote: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”
She began a petition to END Mother’s Day in 1943. And it stopped rather abruptly when she was put into the Marshall Square Sanitarium in West Chester, PA. Her bills for the sanitarium were paid…by people in the greeting card and flower industries. She eventually died there, and we still send our moms printed cards and eat most of the candy ourselves.
But remember, Mother’s Day started as a call to peace. It started with the encouragement to honor the work of mothering by refusing to allow those we’ve mothered to destroy other mothers’ handiwork. And I’d like to see every mother reclaim that origin story.
Enjoy your frittatas, ladies. And then take those delicious croissant calories and overthrow the military industrial (and/or greeting card) complex.
*They’re imaginary mimosas. I have to get out the door in like half an hour and I don’t have time to get actually drunk rn. Just trying to make excuses for places where I’ve got my facts ever so slightly sideways. But I think this is pretty much right.