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Mother's Day for peace, as Julia Ward Howe intended

Kansas City Unitarian Universalists promote Mother's Day founder Julia Ward Howe's message of peace.
By Donald E. Skinner
5.19.08

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Mother's Day rally

Five hundred people assembled on Mother’s Day in Kansas City for a peace rally inspired by Unitarian Julia Ward Howe. (Courtesty of Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church)

Sara Sautter said she would have been “satisfied” if 250 people had shown up on Mother’s Day for the first annual Moms Against the War peace rally along a busy Overland Park, Kans., street. When 500 people came out, filling almost a half-mile of sidewalk, she was ecstatic.

Sautter, the director of religious education at Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Overland Park, gives the credit to 19th-century abolitionist, social activist, poet, and Unitarian Julia Ward Howe. Howe, the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” became sickened by the bloodshed in the Civil War, and in 1870 she wrote a Mother’s Day proclamation calling women around the world to speak out for peace. “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience,” she wrote. “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.”

Howe called women together for a “congress of action.” And for several years there was a “Mother’s Day for Peace.” It ultimately became simply “Mother’s Day,” however, and the emphasis on peace was lost. Sautter and Shawnee Mission church member Nancy Mays felt called to bring back that emphasis on peace.

While chaperoning a Coming of Age youth trip to Boston, Sautter and Mays lamented the difficulty of raising children in a war-ravaged world, and felt inspired to do something. But what? Then someone mentioned Howe. Mays, and others, over a period of months, decided that Mother’s Day would be the perfect time to wage peace and set up a website called “Julia’s Voice” (juliasvoice.org). That’s how 500 people came to be strung out along a sidewalk in one of Kansas City’s largest suburbs on a Sunday afternoon.

Standing with them was a “peace choir,” two Julia Ward Howe impersonators, and some Iraq war veterans. Sautter said there was an overwhelmingly friendly reception from motorists and others. “A number of people even stopped and joined us,” she said. The two Julia Ward Howe impersonators read Howe’s “Mother’s Day Proclamation” and shared the story of her life. The peace choir sang.

Before the event, at the Sunday morning worship services at Shawnee Mission UU Church, the Rev. Thom Belote asked all the people who were going to the afternoon event to stand, and then he gave them a blessing. “They left the church with very high positive energy, and it carried over into the event,” said Sautter, who noted that at least 100 friends and members of the church attended the event, plus others from All Souls UU Church in Kansas City and the Gaia Community, another UU congregation.

The event was helped by two news stories the week before. The event itself was covered by two TV stations. Sautter said she was pleased that most coverage focused on Julia Ward Howe. “I wanted this to be about turning Mother’s Day back to its original intent, not about a bunch of angry moms. So we got to honor our Unitarian forebear for doing a really cool thing and we gave mothers a voice in the cause of peace.”

She said she expects “Moms Against the War” events to spread to more congregations next year. “More than a hundred people signed up Sunday to be involved next year, and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback on our website, so we think maybe we’ve started something.” Even this year there were Mother’s Day peace forums, walks, and other events at a half-dozen UU congregations from Bethesda, Md., to Idaho Falls, Idaho, Sautter said.

Shawnee Mission UU Church member Kay Heley, who helped organize the event, said, “My goal was to get people involved who had never done anything like this, and have it be a good experience for them and that happened. There were smiles on peoples’ faces. People felt good about spending Mother’s Day this way.”


Disclosure: The author is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Overland Park, Kansas. See sidebar for links to related resources.

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