The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
In the name of womanhood
Thoughts on Mother's Day

Michael Youlton • May 11, 2003

Last night I went to listen to one of my heroes of my youth in Dublin’s Helix: Lou Reed. I saw old friends there. And when, at the very end, after the third encore, he began ‘The Perfect Day', in this Mother's Day weekend, my mind wandered into the memory of my mother (with the angels for a while now). And then, unexpectedly, of the 1870 call by American poet and women's leader Julia Ward Howe for the establishment of the holiday. Did you know that what is now widely viewed as a sentimental and silly-dippy tribute to family was originally a call for women to wage a general strike to end war?

The radical origins of Mother's Day -- as a powerful feminist call against war, penned in the wake of the U.S. Civil War in 1870 -- are fully compatible with the universal notion of honouring women, and particularly mothers. Women, even more so now, are the primary sufferers of warfare.

In the 20th Century, civilian populations bore 90 percent of war's casualties around the world; mass and indiscriminate attacks, popularised in WWII by the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Allied fire-bombings in Japan and Germany, and the rape of Nanking, are only the most spectacular examples of a phenomenon in which women become the rape and famine victims, the refugees, the forgotten statistics in what are invariably the wars of (older?) men.

I admit it; I sent my departed mother flowers this year - indirectly, through the Net, to a very old lady I know. She appreciates them. But a greater gift for the world's mothers still awaits: a day in which the voices of women -- now, as then, less inclined to rush to war or bask in its false glory -- are an equal part in the foreign policy of countries like the United States. As with so many other aspects of American history -- May Day, just passed, is another -- a legacy that is now celebrated around the world is farthest from its original intent in the land of its birth. And its satellites.

The generals have written the American historical memory, in the Civil War, in most popular narratives of the bloody trail of modernizing "Western Civilization." It's worth remembering that a political division that lasted longer and was considered more intractable than today's Palestine/Israel conflict or indefinite "War on Terror," and that killed well over a hundred times more people on American soil than the attacks of September 11, was not unanimously lauded at the time. And that women thought they could do something to prevent such bloodshed in the future.

Here is the original, Mother's Day Proclamation, penned in Boston by Julia Ward Howe in 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day! 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 of 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 dishonour Nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough 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 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.

Maybe soon.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



I have spent
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Index: Current Articles

11 May 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Stakeknife - Shock and Awe.
Anthony McIntyre


In the name of womanhood

Michael Youlton


Brendan Hughes


Death Threats and Harassment by the RUC/PSNI
Joe Dillon


Election Delay Shows Dubious Democracy
Eamon Lynch


8 May 2003


Volunteer Patricia McKay
Brendan Hughes


Death of Barbara Reilly

The Clinton Family


Republicans and the Protestant Working Class
Gerry Ruddy


Suicide is Painless?
Sean Smyth


The Politics of the Undecidable
Liam O Ruairc


Patriotism Polluting Journalism
Anthony McIntyre


At the Theatre

Annie Higgins




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