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Why don’t we know this stuff?

May 16, 2011

At an early age we all were taught that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and “couldn’t tell a lie ” when his father confronted him.  We were also taught that Columbus discovered America in 1492 and remember because we were also taught the rhyme, in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  Of course some of us liked to screw around and say in 1493 Columbus sailed the deep blue sea.   The point, however, was when we got older we found out the cherry tree was a myth and Columbus was not the first to discover America (that honor goes to Leif Ericson).

As much as these kinds of things bother me, it is the things we were never taught that bug me even more.  I just finished reading Manhunt by James L. Swanson, which is the story of the 12 day manhunt for John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln.  What I did not know, nor do I recall ever being taught, was that the assassination of Lincoln was part of a plot to kill the president, the vice president (Andrew Johnson), and the secretary of state (William Seward), all at the same time.  Wilkes obviously succeeded, Seward almost died, and the assassin who went after Johnson backed out.  This book is definitely worth reading if you want to know the full story.   My point, however, is why were we never taught this.

While I was contemplating my lack of knowledge over the Lincoln assassination, along comes Mothers’ Day.  (Yes, I put the apostrophe after the s because it is a day for all mothers not just one which is in contrast to the original, “In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and created the Mother’s Day International Association.

“She was specific about the location of the apostrophe; it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.”).

Mothers’ Day has become a profit center for Hallmark (Americans will spend $68 million on greeting cards), restaurants (the manager of our local Black Angus said it is his busiest day), jewelry (Mother’s Day will generate about 7.8% of the U.S. jewelry industry’s annual revenue), and florists (Americans will spend approximately $2.6 billion on flowers).  But do you know the origin of Mothers’ Day?

While Anne Jarvis was the first to declare the second Sunday in May as Mothers’ Day and Woodrow Wilson was the president who made it a national holiday, the origin was actually in 1870.  Julia Ward Howe, who penned the song Battle Hymn of the Republic, wrote a proclamation calling on all mothers to become politically active and not let the carnage of the Civil War that took their sons happen again.  The proclamation read as follows:

“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 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.”

My question is  why did I just learn about this?  How could we let such a poignant call to action become a sentimental guilt trip.  Ironically “nine years after the first official United States Mother’s Day, commercialization of the holiday became so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become and spent all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration. Later commercial and other exploitations of the use of Mother’s Day infuriated Jarvis and she made her criticisms explicitly known the rest of her life.She criticized the practice of purchasing greeting cards, which she saw as a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter. She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and she finally said that she “wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control …”.

So why don’t we know this stuff?  Maybe because it is easier to be a lemming, than to, as Einstein said, question everything!!

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