A day for the recognition of mothers in this country started not by a greeting card company or restaurant association, though both of those commercial enterprises have profited mightily from the co-option of the idea. Nor was it started by a government, though, with what became World War I on the horizon, Woodrow Wilson managed to twist it to serve a nationalistic agenda (honoring mothers who had sacrificed sons to war, which, whatever the stated intent, ultimately glorifies war).
No, it was three women who made it happen: Julia Ward Howe, a pacifist, wrote a call to mothers everywhere to act in unity for peace; after Howe's death, Ann Jarvis, a social reformer and also a pacifist, revived the idea and then her daughter Anna Jarvis brought it to fruition, to honor her mother's lifetime of work for justice and peace.
Sadly, before a decade had passed, the new “holiday” was so thoroughly usurped for commercial purposes that it barely resembled its original intent. Anna Jarvis disavowed it.
As far as how Mother's Day is normally perceived and celebrated in this country, so do I. International Women's Day (celebrated around the world on March 8, though barely heard of in the US) is a much more appropriate embodiment of Julia Ward Howe and Ann and Anna Jarvis' values and lives, not to mention the desires of most women of the planet for rights, justice and peace.
Teresa Heinz Kerry has the right idea for how to honor mothers on this day and all others: to seek and work for more economic justice and resources for older women.
Mothers' Day Proclamation
by Julia Ward Howe
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will 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, the 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 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 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 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.