Contrary to popular belief, Mother’s Day, the third largest card-sending holiday in the US, is not a holiday that was created by the greeting card industry, but has its origins in ancient Greece where it was celebrated each spring in honor of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods.
Honoring Mary on Mothering Sunday
In 17th century England, the celebration took on a religious significance, becoming a day that early Christians set aside to honor Mary, the mother of Christ. Eventually all mothers were included and the day became known as Mothering Sunday, because it was a day that celebrated both mothers and the church. In the UK, Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the 4th Sunday after lent.
Julia Ward Howe and the Mother’s Day of Peace
In America however, Mothering Sunday was all but forgotten by the English colonists when they arrived here in the early 1600s. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the idea was briefly resurrected by Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and social activist best known for penning the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
In 1870, Howe declared the first modern “Mother’s Day,” composing what is widely believed to be the original Mothers’ Day proclamation in the US.
Howe was also a pacifist as well as an active participant in the women’s suffrage movement and two years later, combining her passions for both peace and motherhood, Howe declared June 2 a “Mother’s Day for Peace." She envisioned the day being celebrated every year on that same date, which it was for the next 10 years. But unlike today’s Mother’s Day celebrations, which typically honor the contributions of mothers to their families and communities, Howe saw it as a day for women to unite against war.
Anna Jarvis and the Modern Mother’s Day
The Mother’s Day holiday as we know it today is actually credited to a woman named Anna Jarvis. Jarvis was the daughter of Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker who was an inspiration to Howe because of her work in improving relationships between neighbors in the north and south after the Civil War.
Although she was educated at Female Seminary in Wheeling, WV and taught for a while at a school, Jarvis returned home to care for her sick mother. After her mother’s death in 1905 Anna Jarvis dedicated her life to creating a day that honored mothers—living and dead.
She took up a letter writing campaign and brought her idea up to everyone she could. Eventually a local church, Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, WV, where Jarvis had taught Sunday school classes for 20 years, took notice and is credited with the first Mother’s Day observance.
President Wilson Officially Proclaims Mother’s Day
Anna Jarvis’ persistence paid off and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed Mother’s Day an official holiday in honor of motherhood and is celebrated in the US on the second Sunday in May.
Ironically however, Jarvis was a spinster who had no children of her own.
And for the record, Hallmark did not begin making cards for the holiday in the 1920s.
Happy Mother’s Day!