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The History of Mother’s Day

When we think of Mother’s Day in modern times, we think of greeting cards, flowers, and Sunday brunches with mom, but there is quite a lot more to this annual celebration than one would think.

Mother’s Day is observed annually in more than 40 countries around the world and can be traced back for thousands of years. In some sense, it can even be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome, where the ancients worshipped various mother figures in their respective religions.

During the Middle Ages, it became tradition for people to return to their “mother” church, or home parish, during the middle of Lent and children would get the day off of work (they went to work at age 10) to visit their mothers.

In the 1500s this became known as “Mothering Sunday”. Families would get together and the oldest child would bring a “mothering cake” to be shared by the family in honor of their mother.

The history of the modern-day celebration of Mother’s Day started out with good intentions by Anna Jarvis, a copywriter from Philadelphia. Jarvis first started campaigning to make Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1905, after the death of her own mother, Ann Reeves-Jarvis. Reeves-Jarvis, also known as “Mother Jarvis”, was an activist during the Civil War, caring for soldiers from both sides and who also created Mother’s Day Work Clubs which were involved with public health issues.

Anna Jarvis was inspired to create the holiday to honor mothers after hearing her mother recite a prayer one day after teaching Sunday school.

I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial Mother’s Day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life.

After her mother’s death, Jarvis vowed to bring her mother’s dream to fruition as she believed mothers were the people that would do more for you than anyone else in the world.

In 1908 Congress actually rejected making Mother’s Day into a nationally recognized holiday, joking that they would also have to create a Mother-in-law’s Day. Not to be deterred, Jarvis continued her efforts and by 1911 the entire country was celebrating Mother’s Day, albeit unofficially.

In 1912, Anna Jarvis quit her copywriting job and founded the Mother’s Day International Association. With a letter-writing campaign, and a partnership with florists, Jarvis was eventually able to persuade state governments to honor the day. This ultimately led Woodrow Wilson to sign legislation in 1914, declaring Mother’s Day a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May.

This story is not all happy, however. As the popularity of celebrating Mother’s Day grew, so did its commercialization. By the 1920s, companies such as Hallmark were selling greeting cards and candy companies were making a profit as well. Anna Jarvis believed that it was wrong for companies to be exploiting the holiday that she created in this way, as it was to be a day about honoring mothers, not turning a profit.

Jarvis organized a series of boycotts and threatened lawsuits against companies involved in the exploitation of Mother’s Day. To Jarvis, Mother’s Day was to be about appreciation and honor, not greeting card and chocolate sales. At one point, Anna Jarvis was actually arrested for disturbing the peace during one of her protests.

Ultimately, life ended very sadly for Anna Jarvis, as she died broke, in a sanatarium in 1948 and she was buried next to her beloved mother.

So, this year, when you give your mom a call, or send her some flowers, take a minute to give thanks to the sacrifices of Anna Jarvis, who fought so very hard to have mothers everywhere officially recognized.

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  • Mary
    May 10, 2020, 2:29 am

    Great post !
    I believe time is better spent for Mother’s Day than money..