Years after Julia Ward Howe wrote the martial anthem of the Civil War she campaigned for a ‘Mother’s Day for Peace.’
After the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe threw herself into two causes: pacifism and women’s suffrage. In 1870 she wrote ‘Appeal to womanhood throughout the world’ asking women to unite for world peace. The appeal became known as the ‘Mother’s Day Proclamation.’ It began,
Arise, then, women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be 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!
She concluded by asking for an international congress of women to promote peace.
Howe was influenced by Anna Reeves Jarvis, a West Virginia woman who organized ‘Mothers’ Day Work Clubs before the Civil War. Women raised money for medicine, inspected bottled milk and food and hired helpers for families in which the mothers had tuberculosis. During the Civil War, the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs declared their neutrality, cared for the wounded and fed and clothed soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
After the Civil War, Jarvis staged a Mothers' Friendship Day at the courthouse in Pruntytown, W.V., to bring together people who supported the Confederacy and people who supported the Union.
Anna Reeves Jarvis died at 72 in Pennsylvania on May 9, 1905. Julia Ward Howe died at 91 in Portsmouth, R.I., on October 17, 1910, four years before Mothers Day was declared a national holiday.
It was Anna Reeves Jarvis’ daughter, Anna Jarvis, who succeeded in founding the Mothers’ Day holiday. She held a memorial for her mother on May 10, 1908, at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, W.V. Anna Jarvis continued to campaign for a Mother's Day holiday. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Mother's Day on May 8, 1914.
Julia Ward Howe’s Rhode Island home, Oak Glen, is on the National Register of Historic Places.