Day 22: The Difference an Apostrophe Makes
Heather Cox Richardson taught me something about this day that feels juicy. It wouldn't have dawned on me to muse on Mother's Day, to be honest, though I love my mother dearly and enjoy celebrating her as she allows.
My own life path has been an intentional choice to not have children (a story much longer than 500 words). But it means I have great sensitivity to the swirls of dynamics and association surrounding this day, at least as we tend to celebrate it now. I smiled as Brian opened the church service this morning with a Happy Mother's Day to those who are mothers, and those who have mothers! i.e. Everyone in the room, to be born, had to have had a mother. Such is the liturgical tap-dance clergy get to be attentive to today...
But Richardson caught my heartstrings for women’s necessary wisdom today. She is author of the near-daily Letters From an American with her disciplinary expertise in American history, specifically its political history. Sometimes I read all the way through her posts, often times I do not. (She can communicate a Liberal panic that is sometimes just not a great way to start the day.) Today's storying? You can trace the etymology of this day celebrating mothers to the placement of the apostrophe.
Google suggests that Mother's Day (singular apostrophe position) began in 1908 when Anna Jarvis decided to honor her mother. But “Mothers' Day” (apostrophe in the plural position) is a day to celebrate the advocacy and conviction of women who are tired of the carnage men exact upon one another, us and the world. Plural-positioned Mothers’ Day can be traced to the 1870’s—after the US Civil war and the Franco-Prussian War—as women who had found a new sense of empowerment while the men were at war began to take more ownership of what societal life needed to become. Suffrage Associations were founded. Julia Ward Howe (who also penned Battle Hymn of the Republic) wrote “An Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World.” She professed the “august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities,” namely “to command their sons to stop the madness” of war.
There’s an ancient Greek play that has a bit of this flavor to it, except it has to do more with sex than motherhood. “Lysistrata,” by Aristophanes, is an anti-war comedy in which the female characters in the play withhold sex from their husbands as part of their strategy to secure peace and end the Peloponnesian War. It worked in the play, which of course, made it a comedy.
So this Mothers’ Day, I find myself musing on the wisdom of women, even as we are all interconnected in today's violences too. Dayton’s primary economic hub is the Air Force Base, after all, with research R&D for the industrial military complex. Good people needing good paying jobs, making the local economy. My Quaker heart first resisted the ambiguity I now see as unavoidable.
Sex. Motherhood. What other forces might we women & men bring to bear today toward less carnage?