A History of Mother’s Day

By ALAN SMASON

This is the 102nd official Mother’s Day celebration in the United States. But how many know how this holiday came about?

The earliest Mother’s Day celebrations can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honor of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. During the 1600’s, England celebrated a day called “Mothering Sunday.” Celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, “Mothering Sunday” honored the mothers of England.

During this time many of the England’s poor worked as servants for the wealthy. As most jobs were located far from their homes, the servants would live at the houses of their employers. On Mothering Sunday the servants would have the day off and were encouraged to return home and spend the day with their mothers. A special cake, called the mothering cake, was often brought along to provide a festive touch.

As Christianity spread throughout Europe the celebration changed to honor the “Mother Church.” Over time the church festival blended with the Mothering Sunday celebration. People began honoring their mothers as well as the church.

In the United States Mother’s Day was first suggested in 1872 by Julia Ward Howe, the same lady who wrote the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She suggested it as a day dedicated to peace. Howe organized annual Mother’s Day meetings in Boston, Massachusetts .

Anna_jarvis

Anna Jarvis (circa 1900) (Photo from Wikipedia)

In 1907 Anna Jarvis, from Philadelphia, began a campaign to establish a national Mother’s Day. Ms. Jarvis persuaded her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia to celebrate Mother’s Day on the second anniversary of her mother’s death, the 2nd Sunday of May. By the next year Mother’s Day was also celebrated in Philadelphia.

Jarvis and her supporters began to write to ministers, businessmen, and politicians in their quest to establish a national Mother’s Day. It was very successful. By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state. President Woodrow Wilson made the official announcement in 1914 proclaiming Mother’s Day as a national holiday that was to be held each year on the second Sunday of May.

By the 1930s, Jarvis was a recluse, who had become horrified at the commercial aspects of the holiday she had founded. She lived as a spinster with her blind sister, Lillian, and would only answer the door if a specific knock was heard.

Her health began to decline and in 1943, she was committed to a sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania by concerned friends. Meanwhile, Lillian died all alone a few month”s later, while Jarvis was hospitalized.

When she died five years later, Jarvis also was blind and disagreeable. She had never become married or allowed herself to become a mother. Howard Wolfe, an historian who knew her,  described her existence as miserable. “Her last days were embittered almost beyond comprehension,” Wolfe wrote.

While many countries of the world celebrate their own Mother’s Day at different times throughout the year, there are some countries such as Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia, and Belgium, which also celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May.

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