Julia Ward Howe lived from 1819-1910. The mother of six children, she was also an author, poet, preacher, teacher, and activist. If you do not know Julia by name, you likely know her by song. First published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1862, she wrote the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after visiting Union soldiers in Northern Virginia during the Civil War. She reclaimed the tune to a song they had commonly sung at the battlefield.
In addition to raising six children, keeping a nineteenth-century home (and tending to a nineteenth-century husband), advocating for women’s suffrage, opposing slavery, and pushing for education and prison reform, Julia “was instrumental in creating Mother’s Day, which she envisioned as a day of solemn council where women from all over the world could meet to discuss the means whereby to achieve world peace. They would also convene as mothers, keeping in mind the duty of protecting their children.”
In response to the continuous bloodshed of the Civil War, Julia penned her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870. With it she “called for an international Mother’s Day celebrating peace and motherhood” to “protest what she saw as the futility of their Sons killing the Sons of other Mothers.”
Her letter declared:
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!
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 then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
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 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.
In the United States, a declaration of peace birthed Mother’s Day. Women gathered because they believed each human being bore “the sacred impress” of God—each man, woman, and child was made in the image of God. Julia’s vision was a day for mothers, literal and metaphorical, to use their mothering voices for the needs of the world. For those who have a voice, remember Julia’s vision by uniting those voices to speak for the voiceless. For Julia, the natural way to live out the truths of who God is and how God loves was to mother the world. Male or female, children or no children, all are called to this type of motherhood. Truly, it is a motherhood for all.
For full quotes and more information on Julia Ward Howe, visit www.juliawardhowe.org.
Elizabeth Mangham Lott is a preacher, writer, teacher, mother, wife, and aspiring activist living in Richmond, Virginia.