Mothers are people who place first, before themselves, the lives of their children, their loved ones, and others beyond the family circle. Mother’s Day was created to celebrate mothers and all the wonderful things they do for their children, for their families and for others. The day designated for this holiday is the second Sunday in May. Many countries now celebrate some form of Mother’s Day. Most of these celebrations are derived from the celebration that originated in the United States, as described below.
The history of Mother’s Day began with a woman named Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis. Ann was born on September 30, 1832 in Culpeper, Virginia. She married Granville E. Jarvis in 1850 and in 1852 moved to a small community called Webster, Virginia (what is currently known as Webster, West Virginia).
Ann and Granville had eleven children during their married lives. However, only four children survived due to the rudimentary living conditions which were present at that time in the history of the United States. Ann was not deterred by the loss of her children. At a young age of 26, Ann began organizing women in and around Webster forming Mothers Day Work Clubs.
The Mothers Day Work Clubs were prevalent in fighting the unsanitary conditions and supporting healthier conditions for all who lived in the area. “Among other services, the clubs raised money for medicine, hired women to work for families in which the mother suffered from tuberculosis, and inspected bottled milk and food.”
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), both the Union and the Confederates chose to station their soldiers throughout most of Taylor County, Virginia, mainly to “hold the Grafton railroad terminus at all costs….” Ann, again, went into action. Not wanting to disrupt the work of the Mothers Day Work Clubs, she issued the following objective: “To make a sworn-to agreement between members that friendship and good will should obtain in the clubs for the duration and aftermath of the war. That all efforts to divide the churches and lodges should not only be frowned upon but prevented.”
The Mothers Day Work Clubs assisted the military on both sides during the war. Whenever a soldier became ill and needed assistance, no matter which side the soldiers fought on, the women in the club assisted the wounded soldiers. The highest awards were given to these clubs for their impartial aid to the sick soldiers.
Ann and the Mothers Day Work Clubs did not cease in their assistance after the war. Ann and her family moved about four miles north to the town of Grafton. During this time, both Confederate and Union soldiers were returning to their homes, many living in the same communities. In order to obtain a peaceful reunion, “Ann Jarvis organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day at the courthouse in Pruntytown to bring together soldiers and neighbors of all political beliefs.”
Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis died on May 9, 1905 in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. On May 10, 1908, Ann’s daughter, Anna, remembered her mother during a celebration at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Anna had delivered to the church 500 white carnations as those were her mother’s favorite flowers. Miss Jarvis also sent a telegram to be “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 lives of good mothers. To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought…
…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 good mothers.”
West Virginia was the first state to recognize an official Mother’s Day by stating that “[T]he second Sunday of May was proclaimed as Mother’s Day, as a result of the first West Virginia State Proclamation, issued on April 26, 1910, by West Virginia Governor William E. Glasscock”.
Ann fought hard to bring Mother’s Day to the national holiday status. “By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state of the Union. And in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made the official announcement proclaiming Mother’s Day as a national holiday that was to be held each year on the second Sunday of May.”
As Mother’s Day celebrations grew, commercialism for the holiday grew. Greeting cards, gifts, flowers, and so much more were advertised as items to purchase for mothers on Mother’s Day. These actions were so distant from Anna’s original holiday celebration ideas consisting of hand-written letters, a family gathering at mother’s home, a time to honor mother and to make her feel special. Anna became so upset over the way the holiday was advancing that during several events between the 1920’s and 1930’s, she tried to have these events stopped. She wrote “What will you do to route charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?” When she died on November 24, 1948, Miss Anna Jarvis was unsuccessful in deterring the future outlook for Mother’s Day. Commercialism set in and would not let go.
Additional History – Julia Ward Howe
Some say that Julia Ward Howe was the first advocate of Mother’s Day. However, as her proclamation states, she was more of an activist than Anna Jarvis, the creator of the actual date of Mother’s Day.
Julia was born in New York City on May 27, 1819 and died on October 17, 1910 in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. As women during her lifetime were not a prevalent part of society, Julia wanted to change women’s roles. “Julia became very involved in the reform movement and supported issues like abolition, women’s rights, prison reform and education.”
Julia composed many poems and her most popular was the Battle Hymn of the Republic written in 1861. She also composed a Mothers’ Day Proclamation in 1870. The proclamation was more focused on women’s rights and not on a day to honor mothers. During the 1870’s, she became active in the woman’s club movement… She helped found the Association for the Advancement of Women (AAW) in 1873.
After the death of her husband in 1876, she became active again in fighting for women’s rights. Later she began supporting groups that were more militant such as Russian freedom and the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association.
As both men and women age in the life cycle, the mother’s role is changed. While growing up, a mother is the disciplinarian, the caretaker, the one a young boy or young woman turns to in times of needed food and shelter or in times of a just needed hug. As the young men and young women become adults with families, the mother becomes the confidant, the one who is turned to for advice, and sometimes still the one who is turned to when in need of a comforting hug. When the children leave and if an adult man or adult woman is lucky enough to still have their mother on this earth, the life cycle changes. It is the “adult child” who now gives the comforting hug, the caring word, and loving embrace to the mother. It is the “adult child” who cares for the mother and does anything possible to make mother’s aging life easier.
A mother is important throughout the lives of her children. By celebrating Mother’s Day, the mother’s child, no matter what age, shows her honor, caring and respect and receives, in return, the mother’s new love each day.
Ideas for Mother’s Day
- Children can make a card out of construction paper, crayons or markers and perhaps a photo.
- Make a surprise breakfast.
- Go on a walk in the park.
- Watch one of Mom’s favorite movies with her.