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Women Leaders Rediscover Mother's Day

It was President Woodrow Wilson who declared in 1914 that the second Sunday in May each year would from then on be observed as Mother's Day. But the idea of honoring mothers actually got its start in the mid 1800s, when activists first envisioned Mother's Day as a way to promote peace. With so much conflict in the world today, a group of women peace activists is trying to return to those roots, honoring mothers worldwide with a globe-spanning gift of peace.

Flowers and dinner invitations are the most common gifts mothers usually receive from their sons and daughters on Mother's Day. But a new campaign suggests another way to honor our moms.

This year, instead of giving your mother chocolates or some other gifts, make a donation in her honor to support these modern-day mothers who work to build peace all around the world," Naila Bolus says. Bolus is Executive Director of the Ploughshares Fund, a private foundation that funds peace efforts worldwide. Bolus' group has launched a campaign called Rediscover Mother's Day, to which Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan has signed on as Honorary Chair, to educate people about the original spirit behind Mother's Day observances.

"The history of Mother's Day is not very well known," she says."It was actually conceived of as a day to inspire people to work for peace. It was founded by a woman named Julia Ward Howe. She was very moved by the devastation she saw during both the Civil War in the United States and also the Franco Prussian war. This goes back to the 1870s."

Bolus recalls that Howe wrote a Mother's Day proclamation, and called on women around the world to dedicate themselves to promoting peace in their local communities. "She called for a Mother's Day for Peace," she says. "It was now 1872, and women in a number of cities around the U.S. actually held Mother's Day for Peace gatherings. She called for this day to be the second Sunday of June. Over time it sort of evolved into the Mother's Day that we celebrate today. But over time, I think, that original meaning was lost."

Bolus' foundation created a web site to honor modern mothers who are working for the cause of peace.

One woman, Susan Granada, is working on the ground in Sri Lanka, where there is a 30-year old civil war going on. Bolus says, "Susan is a member of a non-violent peace force. She is working on things like identifying child soldiers and reuniting them back with their families. She's been working on monitoring elections to make sure that elections are free and fair in Sri Lanka. She has been trying to facilitate talks between the Tamil Tigers and the government of Sri Lanka."

Bolus says Granada keeps in touch with her own kids in the Philippines everyday to share her experiences with them.

Bolus cites Suzanne diMaggio as another mother working for peace, with the United Nations Association in New York. "She has focused her career on working to develop and strengthen relations between the United States and Iran."

DiMaggio says she's been focusing her efforts over the past three years on bringing peace to the Middle East, stabilizing the situation in Iraq and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

"It was a very ambitious goal, given the fact that the United States and Iran do not have any official diplomatic relation," she says. "What we're doing is bringing together non-governmental players to discuss these issues at the civil society level. So most of our participants include professors at universities, leaders of non-governmental organizations, analysts and scholars. We get together and try to learn from each other, what each society is thinking about the other, what are the concerns, what are the potential areas of cooperation."

Another mother featured on the Rediscover Mother's Day web site is Jacqueline Shire of the Institute for Science and International Security. "We seek to educate the public and policy makers about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, alert them to places where this is happening," she says. "We also seek to promote a non-military alternative to preventing proliferation of, in particular, nuclear technology and expertise."

Organizers of the Rediscover Mother's Day Campaign say these mothers and many others who are working to prevent war are inspired by their dream of creating a different world, a more peaceful world they believe their children and grandchildren deserve to inherit.