The Birth of Mother’s Day

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Mother's Day

Every year, we honor our mothers with flowers and gifts on the second Sunday of May. Here is the history of a time-honored tradition.

In some form, Mother’s Day has been around for thousands of years. A day honoring one’s mother was celebrated in both ancient Greece and during the Roman Empire. The Christians in Europe set aside a Sunday to honor mothers, where children were allowed to leave their jobs and travel home to visit their mothers. The Virgin Mary also has a strong presence and influence in the mind and hearts of Christians, and has been honored and revered.

Mother’s Day in the United States

The idea for an official day to honor mothers in the United States is said to have begun with a proclamation written in 1872 by Julia Ward Howe, who promoted a day of peace and held a Mother’s Day meeting in Massachusetts every year. Julia Ward Howe composed the words to the Battle hymn of the Republic and was the first to hold a celebration of mothers on a Sunday in the United States.

In 1907, Anna Jarvis, born the daughter of Granville and Anna Jarvis in West Virginia in 1864, wished to honor the memory of her mother by holding a day to celebrate all mothers. On the second Sunday of May, she held a memorial on the second anniversary of her mother’s passing and announced to her family and friends her intentions of making Mother’s Day a nationally recognized celebration.

In 1908, Anna suggested to Mr. Loar, the head of her Methodist church’s Sunday school program, to hold a service on the second Sunday of May in honor of her mother, who taught Sunday school at the church for two decades. Anna wore a white carnation signifying the day of celebration, establishing the tradition of the gift of flowers. She established the “Mother’s Day Association” to promote the idea of Mother’s Day becoming a national holiday.

Mother’s Day Is Made a National Holiday

Anna found the support of the Governor of West Virginia, William E. Glasscock. In 1910, Glasscock wrote a proclamation to promote Mother’s Day. The idea was presented to Congress, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the approval that made Mother’s Day a nationally recognized holiday on the second Sunday of every May.

The Commercialization of Mother’s Day

Eventually, Mother’s Day became highly commercialized, so much so that Anna Jarvis herself called the holiday the “Hallmark Holiday”. She was so upset that her idealistic holiday was marred by commercialization, she started a campaign to discontinue the holiday.

Despite Anna’s efforts, the holiday has been popular since its inception, spreading to all states in the United States the year following President Wilson’s approval. Even though many countries have their own ways of celebrating Mother’s Day, the American version of the holiday has spread to many parts of the world.

References:

  1. Australian Media Pty. Ltd. (2008). “Happy Mother’s Day: History of Mother’s Day.”
  2. International Mother’s Day Shrine Foundation (2008). “Mother’s Day 100th Anniversary: The Founding of Mother’s Day.”