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We Love Our Moms

The History of Mother’s Day

Author: Mary Keating

For:  Idaho State Journal

Date:  Sunday, May 13, 2007

            1400 words

Miss Anna Jarvis campaigned heavily to establish a national holiday in honor of mothers. Once established, Miss Jarvis repeatedly attempted to halt Mother’s Day celebrations because she opposed the commercialization of the day. Despite her repeated attempts to stop what she began, Mother’s Day has flourished.

Mother’s Day was first celebrated in Grafton, West Virginia on May 10, 1908. However, it was not until President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 declared the first national Mother’s Day that the day gained special recognition. Originally, the day was set aside for American citizens to show the flag in honor of all mothers whose sons had died in WWI.

Mother’s Day is celebrated on various days of the year in different countries because the day has a number of different origins.  Here is how Mother’s Day came to be celebrated in America.

Early History

The roots of Mother’s Day can be traced back to the spring festivals of the Greeks and Romans.  The Greeks paid honor to Rhea, the mother of many deities and the Romans made offerings to their Great Mother of Gods, Cybele.

As Christianity spread throughout Europe, some historians say that there are reasons to believe that the Mother Church was substituted for Mother Goddess by the early church. Some historians also say the ceremonies in honor of the ancient Roman god Cybele were adopted by the early church to worship the Mother of Christ, Mother Mary. Christians began celebrating Mary, mother of Christ on the fourth Sunday in Lent.

Later on, a religious order stretched the holiday to include all mothers, and named it Mothering Sunday. Over time, the church festival of honoring Mary blended with the Mothering Sunday celebration and people began to honor their own mothers in addition to the church.

Also, during this period of change in the Christian celebration, many of England’s poor worked for the wealthy. For the poor, most jobs were located far from their homes causing the servants to live at the houses of their employers. So, on Mothering Sunday, the servants would have the day off and were encouraged to return home to spend the day with their mothers.

The custom of Mothering Sunday became widespread during the 19th century. Besides the practice of visiting parents, especially mothers, children would take some little present such as a cake or a trinket. They would present their mothers with a cake and often a little nosegay of violets and other wild flowers picked from the hedge groves as they walked along the country lanes. Any youth engaged in such act of duty was said to go ‘amothering.’

The mothering cakes also went by the name of simnel cake. This was a very rich fruit cake, the richer the better because the Lent fast dictated that the cake must keep until Easter. The cake is first boiled in water and then baked, it sometimes has an almond icing. At other times the crust was of flour and water, colored with saffron.

On Mothering Sunday, whole families would attend church together. After mass, they would all sit down for a dinner of roast lamb or veal. During the meal, the mother was treated as queen of the feast.

The customs of Mothering Sunday in England started to decline with the changing patterns of society following the Industrial Revolution. The English colonists who came to America discontinued the practice of Mother Sunday because of time.

United States History:

Nearly 150 years ago, the roots of Mother’s Day began to grow in the United States. Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of the poor health conditions in her community. This cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers and she called it ‘Mother’s Work Day.’ Mother’s Work Day did not take hold.

About 13 years later, in 1870, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, organized a day to encourage mothers to rally for peace. She, of course, believed that mothers bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.

Howe saw some of the worse effects of the Civil War, not only the death and disease which killed and maimed the soldiers, but she worked with widows and orphans of those soldiers on both sides of the war. She saw first hand how the effects of the war went beyond the killing of soldiers in battle. She saw the devastation, the economic crisis which followed the war and witnessed the restructuring of economics of both the North and the South.

Distressed by her experiences, she determined that peace was one of the two most important causes in the world, the other being equality in its many forms. Howe lobbied for women to come together across national lines, to recognize that we hold in common above what divides us and commit to finding a peaceful resolution to conflicts.

Howe issued a Declaration hoping to gather together women in a congress of action. She failed in her attempt to get formal recognition of a Mother’s Day for Peace.

Thirty-five years after Howe’s attempt to establish a Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, the Appalachian homemaker, died. Her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to memorialize the life work of her mother.

Legend has it that young Anna recalled a Sunday school lesson her mother gave. In that lesson, it is reported that Mrs. Jarvis said, ‘I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.’

On May 9, 1905, Miss Jarvis began an intense campaign to fulfill the wishes of her mother.

Miss Jarvis lobbied prominent businessmen like John Wannamaker, and politicians including Presidents Taft and Roosevelt to support her campaign to create a special day to honor mothers.

With the influence and support of great merchant and philanthropist, John Wanamaker of Philadelphia, the movement gained momentum. On May 10, 1908, the third anniversary of Mrs. Jarvis’s death, fully prepared programs were held at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia and in Philadelphia, launching the observance of a general memorial day for all mothers.

The Grafton service was planning and prepared by Miss Jarvis. She sent a telegram, read by Mr. L.L. Loar, which defined the purpose of the day:

…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 live of good mothers. To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought…

Mother’s 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; when you made this resolution, lest you forget and neglect your dear mother, if absent from home write her often, tell her of a few of her noble good qualities and how you love her.

“A mother’s love is new every day.”

God bless our faithful mothers.

The adoption of Mothers Day spread more rapidly than even Miss Jarvis expected. In 1909, forty-five states, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico observed the day by appropriate services and the wearing of white and red carnations.

In 1914, Miss Anna Jarvis’s hard work paid off. President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother’s Day as a national holiday.

Nine years after the first official Mother’s Day holiday, commercialization of the holiday became so rampant that Miss Jarvis became a major opponent of what the holiday had become.

Despite repeated attempt by Miss Jarvis to stop Mother’s Day celebrations, the second Sunday of May has become one of the most popular days of the year. Telephone lines record their highest traffic, restaurants are filled, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to honor and express appreciation of their mothers.

Sources: reference.com; womenshistory.about.com; mothers-day.123holiday.net; dayformothers.com;