One of America’s best Mother’s Day cards didn’t come from Hallmark or go to anyone’s mom. But in its own sweet way, it helped end the war in Vietnam and warmed the hearts of millions across the country. This special Mother’s Day greeting was mailed by the bagful in 1967 to President Lyndon B. Johnson. On the face of the simple, black and yellow card was a crude drawing of a sunflower. Between the leaves in a child’s scrawl were the poignant words, War is not healthy for children and other living things. In a day of angry anti-war rhetoric, the muted message was more powerful than the loudest bullhorn. Inside the card, the plea for peace continued: For my Mother’s Day gift this year, I don’t want candy or flowers. I want an end to killing. We who have given life must be dedicated to preserving it. Please talk peace.
This gentle protest was begun by Another Mother for Peace, a volunteer group formed one night in 1967 at the Beverly Hills., Calif., home of the late Barbara Avedon, an Oscar-winning film and TV writer. “It all started when I had some Hollywood friends over to see my son Josh,” Mrs. Avedon said as she showed me around the second-floor office she and her show-business friends had leased to work on the mass mailing. “Josh was celebrating his first birthday. The year had gone so fast. I realized then that one day I might have to send him off to war.” The 15 women at the party agreed that night what they really wanted for Mother’s Day was peace.
In the weeks that followed the birthday party, a Los Angeles artist friend, Lorraine Schneider, designed the “War Is Not Healthy” card and drew the popular sunflower logo. Actress Joanne Woodward, the wife of Paul Newman, wrote the cover letter, asking recipients to seek the support of women’s clubs and other groups. Hollywood volunteers filled the orders. Workers included movie and TV celebrities and the wives of producers, directors, lawyers and doctors. On the day I visited their rented office in Beverly Hills, actor Robert Vaughn, then star of the TV series, Man from U.N.C.L.E., sat at a long table stuffing envelopes. Actress Donna Reed worked beside him. Other volunteers included actresses Lauren Bacall, Janice Rule, Whitney Blake and Donna Winters, plus the wives of Dean Martin, Dick Van Dyke and Herschel Bernardi.
More than 175,000 cards were sold throughout the country in the first month, including an order from Gloria Vanderbilt. One million reached the White House by Mother’s Day – a scant six weeks after the women worried that night about Joshua’s future. My story for The Associated Press was the card’s first national notice. It was a labor of love because Josh and my son Lee were born just weeks apart. Our family thinks often about Another Mother for Peace, thankful for the war’s end and whatever role the card played.
Over the years, we watched old movies closely for the familiar sunflower icon, which often showed up in scenes as a decorative poster or wall hanging. We also watched with special interest the old CBS television show, Cagney & Lacey. Barbara Avedon was its co-creator.
In an introduction to a later book of Schneider’s art work, Barbara Avedon wrote, describing AMP as a ladylike protest: “We were not bearded, sandaled youths, wild-eyed radicals or dyed in the wool, old line freedom fighters and we wanted the Congress to know that they were dealing with an awakening and enraged middle class – voters, precinct workers, contributors.”
Mrs. Avedon was 64 years old at her death from cancer in 1994. But a decade before the onset of her illness, our two sons received their draft-registration notices on their 18th birthdays and had no war to go to.
But the 9/11 attacks spurred Joshua Avedon, 40, to take up his mother’s cause for peace. “People began contacting me via email and phone asking about whether anyone had given thought to reviving AMP,” he said in a published interview. At the same time across town, Avedon told the Santa Monica Mirror, the daughters of the late artist Lorraine Schneider received similar calls from people wanting to know if they could still get the Mother’s Day cards and the familiar sunflower medallions. Mrs. Schneider died in 1972 at 47.
So Avedon and others resurrected AMP for yet another battle. The group’s latest newsletter asked readers to urge their elected leaders to pursue peace and not war to solve humankind’s problems. The group’s website (anothermother.org) concludes: “Another Mother for Peace wonders how many more have to die before our leaders realize that war, in any form, by any other name, is not healthy for children and other living things.”