Mother’s Day Has a Richer History Than Many Realize

Mother's Day

People in many places throughout the world enjoy celebrating Mother’s Day with that very special woman in their lives. If anyone deserves an annual day of warmth, respect, and love, it would have to be the mother. It is currently honored in 46 nations, with varying calendar dates based on location and culture, and hundreds of millions of people worldwide engage in its festivities. Most don’t realize the rich history and sacrifices that were made to create Mother’s Day into what it is today.

Many Americans believe Mother’s Day was something that was created domestically, but that could not be further from the truth. “Mothering Day” has ancient beginning in the United Kingdom in the 17th century. This was to be honored annually on the fourth Sunday of Lent, which is the period of 40 days immediately preceding Easter. For those who had moved away from home to work as an apprentice or servant, the people were encouraged to use the day to return home and honor their mother. The practice in greater Europe petered out in the 19th century, just as it was beginning to find an audience in the West.

Anna Jarvis is known as the patriarch of Mother’s Day, but the genesis of the idea actually came from her own mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis. Mrs. Jarvis founded “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to perform many necessary health functions before and during the Civil War from 1861-1865. Working to mend wounded soldiers, solve problems with milk contamination, and improving overall sanitary conditions

Famous poet and activist, Julia Ward Howe, took up the cause after the war, with the hope that June 2 would become Mother’s Day. In her Mother’s Day Proclamation, she wrote a message to all women in 1870 to work against the culture of war. Located in Boston, she began Mother’s Peace Day on the second Sunday in June. Local meetings were popular, and she held them throughout the 1870’s. Howe was the first one who sought to have a national holiday for Mother’s.

Jarvis’ daughter, Anna, took up the cause as the 20th century dawned, especially after the passing of her mother in 1905. She sent carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, in her church service in the Grafton, Virgina Methodist Church to mark the occasion, organizing the church’s first observance in May of 1908.

West Virginia Wesleyan’s Antolini, who wrote “Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Defense of Her Mother’s Day” for the dissertation of her Ph.D., states that Jarvis believed Mother’s Day was simply a time to spend with mother. More intimate in nature than a universal celebration of all motherhood. This is specifically who the term “Mother’s Day” is singular and not the plural “Mothers’ Day.”

She wrote letters to politicians, business owners, and newspapers to generate support, based on the position the national holiday had been a male-dominated creation. After three years of petitioning, her campaign was adopted widely and was officially signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. By 1920, the holiday had become so popular, with florists, card makers, and other merchants capitalizing on the newest of American holidays.

What many do not realize about Jarvis and her views of Mother’s Day is that its historic rise to becoming a national holiday confounded and angered her, even though this was what she asked for. She saw it as a personal holiday for the family, not a way for corporations to engage in profiteering. Her remaining days, and wealth, were spent campaigning and fighting against her own creation, and to curb the commercialism of it. Sadly, the story did not have the happiest of ending for Jarvis, as she never married or had children, so she was never able to celebrate Mother’s Day herself. Now impoverished and aged, he was placed in a sanitarium in 1944 and passed away in 1948, to be buried next to her mother in West Laurel Hill Cemetery near Philadelphia.

By Evander Smart



National Geographic

Mothers Day Celebration

Photo by Eduardo Amorim – Creativecommons Flickr License

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