May 6, 2011

A Brief History of Mother's Day

The history of Mother's Day dates back to ancient Greece, but it's all Greek to me, so I'd like to discuss the origin of Mother's Day as it pertains to the U.S.

When the first English settlers came to America, they discontinued an English tradition called Mothering Day which was a carry over of the ancient Mother's Day observances. One reason was the lack of time, they lived under harsh conditions and were forced to work long hours in order to survive. Another reason may have been that Mothering Day conflicted with their Puritan ideals.

In 1872 Julia Ward Howe organized a day for mother's dedicated to peace. She was so distraught by the death and carnage of the Civil War that she called on mother's to come together and protest what she saw as the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mother's. 

June 2 was designated as Mother's Day. In 1873, many cities observed this new Mothering holiday, but most of the celebrations were funded by Howe herself. When she decided to stop the funding of the celebrations the holiday died.

In 1907, Anna M. Jarvis, a Philadelphia schoolteacher, began a movement to set up a national Mother's day in honor of her late mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis. The first official Mother's Day celebrations took place at Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia and a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Two white carnations (Anna's Mother's favorite flower) were given to every mother in the congregation. Today, white carnations are used to honor deceased mothers, while pink and red carnations pay tribute to mothers who are still alive.

Anna worked tirelessly petitioning government officials to officially recognize Mother's Day. Her hard work paid off when, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as a national holiday in honor of mothers.

It is interesting to note that Anna M. Jarvis was very specific about the placement of the apostrophe in the title of Mother's Day. Anna wanted it to be "a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mother's in the world." (1)

(1) Louisa Taylor, Canwest News Service (2008-05-11)  "Mother's Day Creator Likely Spinning in Her Grave" Vancouver Sun.      

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