Newspaper Column: War and Mother’s Day

Julia Ward Howe

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In the aftermath of the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe had an idea. If enough mothers prayed and worked for peace, would it bring about the end of war? And so began the celebration of Mother’s Day.

Over one hundred years later, we know that mothers praying for peace was not enough. Mother’s Day has been co-opted by the corporations as another day to buy stuff, and war has not ended.

How many people have died by violence since that day in 1870 when Mrs. Howe published her proclamation, which ends:

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.

Of course, such a congress of women never convened.

Last week, after almost ten years of hunting him, Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan. His death or capture was most definitely necessary. But I believe that his death was not a blow for peace, but a further encouragement to those who believe that violence is the answer.

Today in the United States, women and men are considered equal, with no thought in public life given to any differences between them. But at the time of Mrs. Howe’s proclamation, men and women were considered to have separate spheres of influence and abilities. In asking women to convene for peace, she was asking them to leave the sphere of female influence, the household, and enter the sphere of male influence, public life.

There are people today who would be upset I assigned to men alone the willingness to kill for power and revenge. A belief in separate spheres of influence extending into public life and excluding women from the political life of this country died many decades ago with the advent of the suffragists, the right to vote, and feminism.

I do believe, however, and you may agree with me, that there are some areas in which men tend to feel more comfortable than women. One of those areas is violence. There are more men in prison than women, and more men in prison for violent offenses than women. So how can all of us peace-loving folk, both men and women, achieve peace when other men are striving for violence?

There are no easy answers, but, please, be peaceful in your own heart, and make your own place a peaceful one, and peace will grow in the world.

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