“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.” - Anna Jarvis, Founder of Mother’s Day
I am no fan of commercial holidays. In February I couldn’t even write an article on Valentine’s Day due to this aversion of Hallmark Holidays. Even as a mother, Mother’s Day has never been my thing.I’ve worked on no less than two productions of Madame Butterfly on past Mother’s Days, and that seemed perfectly fitting. Fortunately, holidays are sparse on the ground in May. If there had been more options I would never have looked up the history of Mother’s day and learned about its many marvelous mothers.
Mothers are magical creatures. They’re in a constant balancing act. Kind enough to be our grace, yet tough enough to enforce discipline. Soft enough to give us comfort, yet hard enough to provide protection. Mothers are gifted with the ability to function with no sleep, clean anything and everything that could come out of a person (physical and verbal), and patience that keeps them from eating their young.
The Old Mamas
Mothers give so much to us they deserve respect, regardless if it’s Mother’s Day or not. Our most ancient ancestors honored motherhood through the divine. Most ancient societies honored mother goddesses. For the Phyrygians this was Cybele. Even the Romans honored Cybele in their Hilaria festival. The Greeks worshipped Rhea. The Egyptians celebrated Isis. The Hindus have Durga. All of these festivities celebrated these goddesses as mothers and honored all they do for us.
Later on, in the Middle Ages, another tradition began called Mothering Sunday. This was a time to return home and attend your mother church, meaning, the church you were baptised in. This occurs on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Over time the custom of honoring actual mothers on this Sunday was taken up too. This is still the custom in the UK and Ireland. So how did it come to America?
Pioneering women; The Mothers of the American Mother’s Day
One American incarnation of Mother’s Day came from Julia Ward Howe. She was a poet, abolitionist, suffragette, and all around amazing woman. She tried to establish June 2nd as “Mother’s Peace Day,” Julia’s vision was a global call for peace from mothers. This was a peaceful protest to the violence of the Civil War and Franco-Prussian Wars. She wrote a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” stating:
”The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.”
Fun fact, Juliet also penned “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and co-founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. She also rubbed elbows with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Margaret Fuller. Like I said, she was an amazing woman. Mother’s Day is not June 2nd, so obviously, this incarnation is not the one we celebrate in America today.
Mothers’ Day vs Mother’s Day
Ann Reeves Jarvis, a contemporary of Julie Ward Howe, started “Mothers’ Friendship Day”. This was also a response to war. In a recently post Civil War U.S, Jarvis called for mothers from both sides of the Mason Dixon line to nurture peace. Three years after the Civil War ended, Ann Reeves Jarvis organized a day for mothers to gather, along with their Union and Confederate sons, to promote reconciliation and peace between the North and the South. This was an amazing feat, but quite honestly was the least of her achievements.
Like Mother Like Daughter
About 36 year later, another femme extroidinare named Anna Jarvis petitioned for a day for families to celebrate Mother’s Day, in the singular possessive. I didn’t make a mistake in the name, Anna Jarvis is the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis. It’s no wonder she would be so inspired to celebrate mothers as her own was such an inspiration. This is the incarnation that was eventually declared an official US holiday. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson forever made the second Sunday of each May the Mother’s Day we celebrate today. . . And we all lived happily ever after.
Anna Jarivs grew up surrounded by strong women. Her mother and her contemporaries were community activists and suffragettes. These women saw needs in their communities and took dramatic, and effective action to meet those needs. They operated out of love and desire to make their world a better place. Anna Jarvis wanted to pay homage to those women. The idea was to give the women that give so much to us one day of rest and appreciation.
Once Mother’s Day was made official, businesses jumped on the opportunity. For seven years Anna Jarvis watched her baby, this day she lobbied so hard for, turn into a monster. This new cash cow of the florist, candy, and card companies was not the reverential day she had intended. She felt this turn of events made the whole event hollow and cheap.
From 1920 onward she fought to get her bastardized child taken off of the holiday calendar. She even took businesses who were profiteering off of Mother’s Day to court. We all know how that turned out. Mother’s Day is still here, and business is still booming. To add insult to injury, Anna Jarvis became penniless fighting against the profiteering floral industry in court. When she reached the age of 80 she was put into a sanitarium. She had no money to pay these bills. Those in the florist and card industries gladly footed the bill to keep her there till her death. I guess the floral, candy, and card businesses did live happily ever after.
Honor the Tradition by Honoring the Origin
The connection between a mother and her children is unique. This is not limited to biological mothers and children by the way. When you teach, guide and nurture someone a special bond forms that cannot be broken. Teachers, neighbors, relatives, blood family, and chosen family can all serve as mothers to us. This May put your most precious resource into honoring your mother or mothers. . time. Give them your time and celebrate the special bond that you share. That moment will last longer than any flowers, or candy. It will never break or get lost. That time will mean more than anything else you could possibly do for “the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”