A History of Mother’s Day

by Elysian Magazine

There is no direct antecedent to our modern secular celebration of mothers, but it has existed, one way or another, for thousands of years. Here’s a timeline:

– Antiquarians and students of folklore believe Mother’s Day originated in Ancient Greek and Roman spring festivals that were dedicated to honor the mother goddess Cybele, the mother deity Rhea, and their festival of Hilaria celebrating the spring equinox.

– Mothering Sunday was an important tradition in the United Kingdom in Medieval times and fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent. The faithful would attend church, where children presented their mothers with flowers and special tokens of love.

– Before the American Civil War, West Virginia wife and mother Ann Reeves Jarvis originated Mother’s Day Work Clubs to teach women how to properly care for their children. The concept spread and these clubs became an attempt by wives and mothers to unify a divided country. Three years after the war ended, in 1868, Mrs. Jarvis organized Mothers’ Friendship Day, a day when mothers promoted reconciliation between former Union and Confederate soldiers.

– American poet and author Julia Ward Howe, known for writing the words to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” wrote her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” (excerpt below) in 1870 as a call to action to mothers to unite to promote world peace. In 1873, Howe campaigned for a Mother’s Peace Day to be celebrated every June 2.

Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

. . .

I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

– Juliet Calhoun Blakely, a temperance activist, celebrated mothers in Albion, Michigan in 1878.

– Mary Towles Sasseen and Frank Hering organized Mother’s Day celebrations in the late 19th century. For this reason, Hering is called “the Father of Mother’s Day.”

– Mother’s Day, as we celebrate it today in America, was the idea of Ann Reeves Jarvis’ daughter, Anna Jarvis. On May 10, 1908, she organized a service held at her local parish to honor loving mothers and subsequently launched a campaign to establish the second Sunday in May as “Mother’s Day” on the national calendar of American holidays. President Woodrow Wilson officially signed the act in 1914.

– Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker held a Mother’s Day celebration at his flagship store on May 10, 1908. Led by Anna Jarvis, 15,000 people attended the event, which included patriotic songs and speakers. White carnations were handed out to all the women as a symbol of purity and longevity.

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