Women's Voices for Peace
Anne Reeves Jarvis
Although Mother’s Day is still two weeks off on May 14, I want to commemorate its founding in part as a call from women to unite against war, especially the 1870 “Mother’s Day Proclamation" and the remarkable article this week on NPR about the recovery of a petition gathered by Welsh women a hundred years ago that again raised the critical role of women as perhaps the most powerful historical voices against war.
Although the actual impetus for Mother’s Day has a quite humble beginning when Anne Reeves Jarvis ("Mother Jarvis”) began organizing women in West Virginia during the Civil War in1858 to both advocate for women and children welfare and also speak out against the devastation of war. I am particularly impressed with her organizing a “Mother’s Friendship Day” after the war to promote reconciliation among the divided communities of W.V. Her daughter then devoted her life to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. Her cause was given greater notoriety by the “Mother’s Day Proclamation”* written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870. And Woodrow Wilson finally proclaimed the Mother’s Day celebration as a national holiday in 1914.
I encourage you to read the Mother’s Day Proclamation below as one of the most poignant and forceful anti-war statements we have. An often ignored aspect of war is the impact on women and children as we are witnessing now in the Ukraine. Husbands and sons are killed, wounded or traumatized by war; homes are destroyed and citizens are displaced or killed;, and then primarily the women are left to mourn the dead and try to recover their own selves, families, and communities from the tragedy they have endured. And as I have written before, the most heart-wrenching sounds recorded on the battlefield are often calls from the wounded for “Momma, momma, momma!”
So I was particularly pleased with the four minute report on NPR this week** about a petition for peace, reportedly seven miles long, signed in 1914 during the horrors of WWI by three quarters of the women in Wales at the time. The idea was that the Welsh women would appeal to the women of the United States to join them, and the petition was packed into a huge wooden chest and sent to the U.S. where apparently it was stored at the Smithsonian and forgotten until mention of it surfaced recently in Wales. It was then recovered and returned back to a woman’s peace group in Wales with much excitement and a renewed commitment to work for peace.
The story of the Welsh petition is a further expression, like the historical Mother’s Day Declaration, and the millions across the world who protested against the invasion of Iraq on February 15, 2003, that it is possible to build the case that, if given the chance to denounce and oppose war, and perhaps led by a coordinated women’s movement, we could begin to provide the basis for making war illegal as we have done with the horrors of slavery.
And a final somewhat related note: the decision by the Pope this week to include the right for women to vote in their forthcoming Synod is a crack in the Vatican all male governance. It is a small step to be sure, but given the potential for increased influence from the highly respected voices of Roman Catholic women, surely it is another sign of hope for a possible women’s voice for peace in the world.
This Mother’s Day, in addition to your gifts of flowers and sentiments of expression of gratitudes for our mothers - and the powerful role in general of women in our lives - please remember that the day has its origins in uniting women’s voices for peace. And may their voices continue to bode well for a peaceable world.
*Mother’s Day Declaration for Peace, 1870
Written by Julia Ward Howe
Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! 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 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 learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place 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.
**NPR four minute audio article on Welsh women’s petition for peace
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