Hers may not be a household name today, but Americans know the famous poem that Julia Ward Howe wrote at the beginning of the Civil War, when it was thought, after the Battle of Bull Run, that the war would be over in just a few weeks: the powerful anthem, Battle Hymn of the Republic.
In song, we know its epic refrain:Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
His truth is marching on
Four devastating years later, when the real effects of war had burned through the veneer of glory and nearly one million Americans were dead or maimed in a hellish landscape, Julia had a change of heart -- and words.
She saw how the spoils of war far exceeded the troops on the field as she worked with the widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides, tattered remnants of the economic devastation that followed the Civil War.
In her new cause of a Mother's Day for Peace, Julia wrote the Mother's Day Proclamation, from a place of depth that welled up within her against the carnage that she witnessed. Five years after the war ended, the result was a cry that called upon a critical common ground of women - motherhood - and the call now was a plea to disarm:
Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
"We will not have questions answered 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 a 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 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.
- Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1870
English poet William Blake wrote two books of poetry, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The songs that emerge from our life's experience of suffering and awakening are no less innocent than the songs of childhood, but they do come from a different place of understanding.
As Julia demonstrates, our heart's song of experience is open-eyed, born of an innocence rooted in empathy, compassion and justice. However, her awakening to peace may not be as easy to set into a catchy tune with a simple refrain.
Still, it is worth a try.