In the ancient worlds, it is the Greek celebration of the Mother Goddess Cybele/Rhea, or the Roman day of worship for Juno. It was later adapted by 16th Century Christians to allow indentured servants to visit their families (and mothers) by returning home to their Mother Church (which is why this day falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent in the UK, Scotland and Ireland).
In North America, the history is more murky. In the 19th Century, Ann Jarvis founded “Mothers’ Work Day” to improve sanitary conditions on both sides of the Civil war; her daughter Anna Jarvis initiated attempts to create a women’s memorial day. Ann Jarvis’ contemporary, social activist Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870, encouraging women to embrace a passive resistance to war:
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate 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 counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
Despite her fine words, Howe was not granted recognition of a “Mother’s Day.” In honour of her mother’s work, Anna Jarvis initiated the first Mother’s Day service on May 10, 1908, intending it to be consecrated as a religious day.
She handed out carnations to mothers, and the trend rapidly caught on in other states. By 1912 some states had created a state holiday, and by 1914 President Woodrow Wilson made it an American National holiday, for the American flag to be flow in honour of mothers who lost their sons in the war (not as a day of celebration of motherhood, per se). Canada began recognizing Mother’s Day in 1911.
By 1923 the North American Mother’s Day became a commercial enterprise, completely shattering the original intent of it’s creators. Anna Jarvis (the daughter) petitioned to have the day of celebration stopped. She failed.
Today it is an excuse to give flowers, go out for dinner, buy furniture or cosmetics. It sells cars and candy, clothes and bolt fabrics. It is a reason to make a macaroni necklace.
My mother-in-law says Mother’s Day should be 365 days of the year, and I agree. One day isn’t enough.
I give my first mother’s day, the most special one, to Torran’s primary nurses. Through circumstance they adopted him, and us. And we are truly grateful.
Happy Mother’s Day Nancy, Jen and Jen, with lots of love from Torran.