Mother’s Day Past & Present

By Avery Walker

Motherhood is full of superlatives. It has been called the best job a woman can have, and the hardest job a woman can have. Mothers are often the happiest, but most exhausted people you will meet. Our mothers make us feel safe and wanted but can also be the ones that give us the strength to venture out and do great things. In the shadow of global events, the pressure of social media, and a fast-paced society, being a mother in today’s world is harder than ever. Often overworked and underappreciated, mothers are unarguably deserving of their own day to be celebrated and pampered. Mother’s Day ranks third in the U.S. for card and flower sales and brings in billions of dollars in revenue for jewelry, spa, and other gift retailers. You may wear a carnation in honor of your mother, attend special church services, or go out to eat with your mom on this special day. But what was the reason behind this fairly recent national holiday, and why was its founder ultimately disappointed with what it has become?

Although it did not officially become a national holiday until May of 1914, Anna Jarvis founded Mother’s Day as we know it in 1905 to honor her mother, Ann Jarvis, and her contributions to society and influence as a mother. Ann Jarvis, who had suffered the loss of several of her own children, started Mother’s Day Work Clubs in the 1850’s to help teach local mothers food safety, sanitation, and other caregiving tips in hopes of reducing childhood death and disease. During and after the Civil War, Ann, who lived in what had just become the state of West Virginia, used these clubs to care for wounded soldiers on both sides and promote unity following the war. In 1868 she organized and held Mother’s Friendship Day in a successful attempt to encourage her community to let go of the animosity remaining after the war. Her efforts before and after the war saved many lives and inspired countless others. The late 1800’s saw several influential women who pioneered early events for mothers. Julia Ward Howe was a suffragette and activist who held a “Mother’s Day for Peace,” an event aimed at bringing mothers together to teach their children that peace was better than war. A Mother’s Day observance was held in Michigan in 1877 honoring Juliet Calhoun Blakely, an influential figure in the temperance movement.
In 1904, University of Notre Dame administrator Frank E. Hering encouraged students and others to set aside one day a year for honoring mothers, including sending postcards and notes for those who could not be with their mothers in person. Anna Jarvis began her annual Mother’s Day Sunday tradition the following year and lobbied for it to become a national and international holiday until she was successful in 1914. The tradition of carnations began with Jarvis’s donation of 500 carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, to a ceremony in 1906. Commercialization of the holiday naturally followed, with florists and other shops taking the opportunity to promote the purchase of corsages, cards, and eventually a whole industry of Mother’s Day gifts. While not a bad practice (and certainly not without its perks for mothers), Anna Jarvis felt the holiday had drifted away from its original intent to be a day of quality time and reflection on motherhood, and she spent the rest of her life trying to revoke the holiday.

Whether you are searching for the perfect gift for your mother this May, or whether you are a mother looking forward to a day of relaxation and family time, let’s reflect on the history of this special day and what it means for women worldwide. Just as the women who pioneered Mother’s Day and many other social and political causes in our nation’s history displayed love and respect for not only their own families, but other women as well, we should be careful not to get caught up in the competition of motherhood, but instead to look for ways to support the women around us. Perhaps you know someone who will spend this Mother’s Day alone or have a friend who desires to be a mother but is facing obstacles to that dream. Maybe you have drifted away from your own mother or children, or face challenges caused by distance or illness. Make this Mother’s Day one to remember by creating memories that will last a lifetime. Perhaps write your mother or an influential woman in your life, a meaningful letter to go with the holiday card. Maybe take a moment to encourage another mom and tell her she’s doing a good job. Celebrate your mother or the women who have helped to shape your life by being there for them the same way they have always been there for you. Let’s honor this special day and mothers throughout history by following their example of unity and encouragement to others.

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