Mother’s Day can be filled with flowers, candy, presents, hugs, sticky kisses, longing, and sadness. Setting aside a special day to celebrate mothers has a long and somewhat painful history. Ancient Greeks and Romans held festivals to honor the mother goddess, and early Christians celebrated a festival known as “Mothering Sunday”, however, it was death, poverty, and war that brought Mother’s Day to a national holiday.
Modern Mother’s Day began as a political and social peace movement. In 1868 a “Mothers Friendship Day” was organized by Ann Jarvis* for mothers to gather with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation. She stated the purpose of the day was to:
To revive the dormant filial love and gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth. To be a home tie for the absent. To obliterate family estrangement. To create a bond of brotherhood through the wearing of a floral badge. To make us better children by getting us closer to the hearts of our good mothers. To brighten the lives of good mothers. To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought… Mothers Day is to remind us of our duty before it is too late. This day is intended that we may make new resolutions for a more active thought to our dear mothers. By words, gifts, acts of affection, and in every way possible, give her pleasure, and make her heart glad every day, and constantly keep in memory Mothers Day.
Abolitionist, pacifist, author, and suffragette Julia Ward Howe wrote a Mothers’ Day Proclamation in 1870, calling mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In fact, she and other antiwar activists called for a Mother’s Peace Day to promote unity after war. She believed women bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.
The official observance of Mother’s Day is due to Anna Jarvis (Ann R. Jarvis’s daughter). Anna pushed the efforts for an official Mothers’ Day after the death of her Mom, to honor her mother and the sacrifices mothers made for their children. Her idea was to set aside a day for children to celebrate their Moms, and remember the work of peacemaking, reconciliation, and social action against poverty.**
She also argued that most national holidays were biased toward men’s achievements, so she started a letter writing campaign. By 1912 many towns and states adopted Mothers’ Day as an annual holiday and by 1914 President Wilson officially established the second Sunday in May as Mothers’ Day.
Side note: originally the holiday was intended as a day to recognize women’s activism – the organized social and political action by all mothers. The apostrophe was moved so the original intent of Mothers’ Day, became Mother’s Day to emphasize women’s role in the home and family; a day to celebrate the service of your own mother.
Although she never married or had children, Anna Jarvis envisioning people wearing a carnation (colored if your mom was living, white if she was not***), as a badge and attend church services. However, once it became a national holiday – it became heavily commercialized. Anna spoke out against people buying items; she wanted to protect the day and filed lawsuits against groups that used the “Mother’s Day” as a slogan for sales. “To have Mothers’ Day the burdensome, wasteful, expensive gift day that Christmas and other special days have become, is not our pleasure,” she wrote. “If the American People are not willing to protect Mothers’ Day from the hordes of money schemers that would overwhelm it with their schemes, then we shall cease having a Mothers’ Day …” Eventually, she went broke using her money to battle the holiday’s commercialism. By her death in 1948, Anna – the Mom of Mothers’ Day – had completely divorced herself from the holiday and lobbied to have it removed from the calendar!
However you celebrate Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day – we wish all moms peace and happiness, and thank you for your sacrifices.
Here are a few Scott County Moms.
*Ann Jarvis helped start Mother’s Day Work Clubs to teach women how to properly care for their children. Ann had lost eight of her own children under the age of seven and wanted to combat the poor health and sanitation conditions that contributed to a high child mortality rate.
** This was the Progressive Era. Women started using their roles as mother, wife, and homemaker to make changes in the public arena. Many women saw motherhood as a moral responsibility to become activists.
***Today, the white carnation is the most popular flower choice and was Annas original flower for Mother’s Day. She chose the flower because “The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, as so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying.”