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The surprising origins of Mother’s Day

Posted on May 12, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

By Sarah Ford | Sonoma Sun — The founders of Mother’s Day would undoubtedly be dismayed at the commercialization of this holiday, and the lack of awareness about its roots.

There were actually several Mother’s Days. The first — Mother’s Work Day — was founded in 1858 by Ann Jarvis of West Virginia to promote sanitary practices, in response to the high infant mortality rate. She herself lost two children under the age of three, and only four of her 11 children lived to adulthood. Mother’s Day Work Clubs across her county taught mothers how to clean their homes and prepare food so as to avoid illness and infection.

Jarvis also founded a Mother’s Friendship Day, during the Civil War. Her town was surrounded by union and confederate soldiers, and she encouraged mothers to be fair to both sides. She trained them to go into camps to treat the wounded, and teach disinfection and sanitation.

Inspired by Ann Jarvis, and horrified by the carnage of the Civil War, abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe, best known for composing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” wrote a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870, calling upon women to protest and prevent war. One passage stated, “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.” She called for an international congress of women to promote peaceful resolution of conflicts.

In 1872, Howe held the first Mother’s Day for Peace in New York City. She continued this tradition in Boston for another 10 years.

Mother’s Day was resurrected in 1908 when Ann Jarvis’s daughter Anna Jarvis organized gatherings in her West Virginia hometown, in Philadelphia where she lived, and in some other cities. Through Jarvis’s efforts, the tradition spread, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May for the holiday, which had evolved into a day to express gratitude to your mother for all she did.

Unfortunately for Jarvis, her idea of a revived Mother’s Day, to counteract what she saw as a neglect of women’s achievements in national holidays, quickly turned into a commercial bonanza. She fought this until her death, organizing boycotts, threatening lawsuits, and even getting arrested for storming a convention of the American War Mothers, who used the holiday for fundraising.




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