During this tragic time of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s devastating attack upon Ukraine, it seems appropriate to be reminded that Mother’s Day was first established to promote peace.

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), abolitionist, poet and suffragette, is now chiefly remembered as the author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Accompanying her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, on his duties as President Lincoln’s sanitary commissioner during the Civil War, she toured military camps and witnessed the carnage of war firsthand. As a volunteer assisting widows and orphans from both the North and South after the war, Howe empathized with the suffering of survivors.

In 1870, the Franco-Prussian War was raging in Europe. Convinced that what unites all people is greater than what divides us, Howe urged women across the globe to join together in opposing war. She campaigned for an annual day for mothers everywhere to raise their voices in demand of world peace.

Howe traveled to Europe in 1872, “hoping to affect the holding of a Woman’s Peace Congress in the great metropolis of the civilized world.” However, simply because she was a woman, Howe was refused a permit along with any public podium in London. Undaunted, she eventually located a hall to hire to continue conducting her crusade against war.

Julia Ward Howe’s following “Appeal to Womanhood represented a call to action summoning all mothers to take a firm stand and raise their voices to demand world peace. Eventually translated into many different languages, it was also a fervent plea with world leaders to settle their political differences through diplomacy rather than military force.

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts
Whether your baptism be that of water or of fears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
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.
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 plow 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 then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time
The sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.


Mother’s Day in this country was first celebrated in Boston on June 2, 1873, and on this same date for the following three decades. Many women during this era worked as political activists, dedicated to reforming society by ending child labor and improving daily life for immigrants, along with working conditions in factories and fields.

Credit for founding Mother’s Day has also been given Anna Jarvis from Philadelphia. As a tribute to her own mother, Jarvis campaigned for a special holiday created to memorialize all mothers. First celebrated in West Virginia in 1907, this was celebrated by some 40 states by 1912. Two years later, President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday.

Mother’s Day quickly became commercial, an excuse to honor one’s own mom with candy and flowers. Today, most of us know it’s the special morning when our children celebrate with colorful crayoned cards, arriving bedside, toting trays of burnt toast and cold coffee. It’s the day daddy has booked the babysitter to take mommy out for dinner at her favorite restaurant.

Juliet Haines Mofford of Bath is a former museum educator who performed in period costume as Julia Ward Howe in an original one-woman show in the ’90s.

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