With Mother’s Day coming this Sunday, we got wondering about the history of this annual celebration of our mothers. Who came up with the idea? And why is the title singular, Mother’s Day, and not Mothers’ Day?
Turns out it started in West Virginia in the 1850s when Ann Reeves Jarvis formed Mother’s Day work clubs to push for better sanitary conditions and lower infant mortality rates. Then, during the Civil War, the women helped tend the wounded on both sides. After the war, Jarvis organized picnics to try to unite the former foes of the North and South. They called these reconciliation events Mother’s Friendship Days.
Then in 1870, Julia Ward Howe, the composer of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, published the Mother’s Day Proclamation. It called on women throughout the country to get active politically to promote peace. Then Ann Jarvis initiated a Mother’s Friendship Day to promote Union and Confederate veterans to unite in peace.
It’s difficult for us today to realize that in places like West Virginia, the war pitted brother against brother and father against son, depending on where one decided his loyalties lay. Ann Reeves Jarvis was instrumental in starting the process of bringing both sides together.
So the holiday had its roots in the Civil War. But it didn’t really take hold as we know it today until Jarvis’s daughter, Anna Jarvis, organized the first Mother’s Day in 1908. She was thankful for her mother’s work and inspired by all she’d accomplished.
So in Grafton, West Virginia she suggested that a service be held in her mother’s honor at the Grafton Church. And that was the first Mother’s Day meeting on May 12, 1907. At the second Mother’s Day celebration on May 10, 1908 at the Grafton Church, Anna sent 1,000 carnations from her new home in Philadelphia to be given to all the mothers in Grafton.
The idea celebrating mothers took off as Anna petitioned mayors, governors, and organizations throughout the northeast to celebrate Mother’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson made it official for the country in 1914, setting aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
The popularity of the day revealed itself in what Anna Jarvis considered crass commercialism. It quickly centered on buying and giving of flowers, candy, and greeting cards, much like it still does today. Disillusioned, she spent the rest of her life fighting to return the day to a simple reverence for your mother without the commercialism.
Whether you agree with her or not, today we celebrate our mothers with visits, gifts, and flowers. And in our experience, all of that contributes to a joyous day we get to spend with our mothers. And, a day, hopefully, where Mom doesn’t have to do all the work!
Anna Jarvis meant the holiday as a time to visit your mother, spending time with her and thanking her for everything she did for you. That’s why she preferred to call it Mother’s Day, and not Mothers’ Day, to memorialize each one of our mothers individually. We hope you still have the opportunity to do that for your mother this year.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!
Until next time,
Your SZW Team
PS. History in this article from the National Geographic website. Click here for more info.
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