Mother’s Day Origins – The American Story

By Sue Whiteman

We all celebrate it, but what does Mother’s Day mean to you?  Thanking her for putting up with you for all these years, spoiling her with flowers, chocolates etc. on the big day or an excuse for getting in touch after a long absence?

Mother’s Day celebrations go back much further than the modern day version.  The ancient Greeks and Romans held festivals in honour of their Goddesses and the Christian festival “Mothering Sunday” has nothing to do with the Mother’s Day we have now.

Before the lead up to the U.S Civil War, a woman named Ann Reeves Jarvis helped organise and set up “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in West Virginia.  Their aim was to lower mortality rates by teaching women how to care for their children properly by improving sanitary conditions and fight disease.

In 1861 war finally broke out and the groups began tending the wounds of soldiers from both sides.  By 1868 after the Civil War was over the organisation was transformed into a peace-focused movement called “Mother’s Friendship Day”.  Other women around the country began to call upon all mothers to unite and promote world peace by organising their own early Mother’s Days.

When Ann Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna Jarvis wanted a nationally recognised holiday to honour all the sacrifices mothers make for their children.  Financial backing was found in 1908 to host an official Mother’s Day celebration in a church in West Virginia.  It was such a success that by forming partnerships with local businesses Jarvis fought to get the holiday added to the national calendar.  By 1914 towns and several states adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, this was eventually made official by the then President Woodrow Wilson.

Sadly the holiday became commercialised which Jarvis hated, it was supposed to be about sentiment, not about making money.  Because of commercial greed, she urged people not to buy gifts from the local businesses and fought against charities using Mother’s Day for fundraising.

Jarvis spent her last active years setting up petitions to withdraw Mother’s Day as a national holiday and there are several stories of her trying to abolish it completely including ordering a “Mother’s Day Salad” in a restaurant then dumping it on the floor before walking out in a huff.

We only get one Mum in this life so let’s focus on what the holiday is meant to be about by honouring the work and all the sacrifices your mother made for you.  Showering and spoiling her with gifts is fine, but don’t forget to show some real love with your sentiments.