Chris Codden’s Visitor Column About Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day marks its 100 anniversary in the United States this year. While that is certainly a long history, did you know how Mother’s Day came about?

The celebration of Mother’s Day finds its origins in ancient Greece and Rome. In Greece, there were spring festivals to honor maternal goddesses. In Rome, about 250 BC, a three day celebration on the ides of March was held to commemorate the mother goddess and included activities such as parades, games and masquerades.

The early Christians celebrated Mother’s Day on the fourth Sunday of Lent to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.

From there, “Mothering Sunday” began in England in the 1600’s. This was also observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent, and included the tradition of people returning to their “Mother Church” as part of the event. The activities started with a prayer service in church to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. Children brought gifts of fruit-filled pastries and flowers to their own mothers. Employers gave the day off to their servants, apprentices and others that were away from their homes due to work, and encouraged them to visit their mothers.

The celebration in the United States is mostly attributed to two women, Anna Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe.

In 1858, Anna Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker, organized “Mother’s Work Days.” Its goal was to improve the sanitation and avert deaths from disease-bearing insects and seepage of polluted water. In 1868, she organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” an initiative to heal the bitter rifts between her Confederate and Union neighbors. After this successful campaign. Mrs. Jarvis promoted the encouragement of honoring all mothers, living and dead, to pay tribute for their contributions.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, women’s suffragist and author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” established a special day for mothers –and for peace—after the bloody Franco-Prussian War. She wrote her famous Mothers Day Proclamation, urging women to rise against war. She wondered, “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?”

Howe’s version of Mother’s Day, was held successfully in Boston and elsewhere for several years, but eventually lost popularity and disappeared from public notice in the years preceding World War I.

After Mrs. Jarvis’ death in 1905, her daughter also named Anna, decided to memorialize her mother’s lifelong activism, and began a campaign to make Mother’s Day a national celebration. Though Anna Jarvis never married and never had kids, it was her desire to honor her mother, making it a holiday to honor each individual’s mother, your mother, not all mothers. Thus, the name is singular, not plural.

To begin with, Anna sent carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, for a church service in Grafton, West Virginia where Mother Jarvis had taught, to honor her mother, symbolizing a mother’s pure love. Gathering much support for her efforts, Anna began lobbying for an official declaration to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. She sent a constant stream of letters to men of prominence — President William Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt among them — and enlisted considerable help from Philadelphia merchant John Wannamaker. Her letters included a quote from her mother, “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day,” the senior Jarvis said. “There are many days for men, but none for mothers.”

In 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in 45 states, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Mexico and Canada. Mother’s Day was proclaimed by their respective governors in West Virginia in 1912 and in Pennsylvania in 1913.

When it reached the U.S. Legislature, senators on both sides of the aisle were not overly impressed by the idea. New Hampshire Senator Jacob Gallinger, a Republican, found the idea of limiting the celebration of his mother to just one day insulting. Senator Henry Moore Teller of Colorado, a Democrat, felt even more strongly, saying it was “absolutely absurd,” “puerile,” and “trifling.” Yet, on May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, a national day of celebration.

It is unfortunate to note that Ms Anna Jarvis, who devoted her life for the declaration of Mother’s Day was deeply hurt by the commercialization of the day. Today, flower sales are reported at $1.9 billion (FTD), 133 million cards are sent (Hallmark) and phone calls increase 37% (AT&T).

Yet, the opportunity to honor our mother, thank her for the gift of life, raising us in kindness, compassion and courage deserves at least one day on our calendar. It is fitting too, that it falls in the month of May, the month we set aside to honor the mother of Jesus and the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Wishing all mothers a very blessed Mother’s Day.