By John Armistead
Julia Ward Howe introduced the idea of having Mother’s Day in 1872. Howe, a woman’s rights activist and author of the words to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” began conducting Mother’s Day observances in Boston each June 2. In the next few years, churches in several New England communities organized their own celebrations.
In 1907, three years after mother’s death, Anna Jarvis persuaded her home church, Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, W.Va., to conduct a Mother’s Day service dedicated to her mother’s memory. Because her mother loved and raised carnations, Jarvis gave every mother in attendance that day a carnation.
Jarvis then began an intense campaign for nationwide recognition of Mother’s Day. She designated the second Sunday in May as the day to honor mothers. Carnations became an indispensable part of the celebration, red to be worn if one’s mother is living and white if she is deceased.
Members from Andrews Church introduced a resolution at the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Minneapolis in 1912 calling for a recognition of Anna Jarvis as the founder of Mother’s Day and recommended that all Methodist Episcopal congregations set aside the second Sunday in May to honor mothers.
The idea spread rapidly among other denominations and leaders pressed for a national holiday. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint resolution of Congress setting aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, a time to express “our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
In later years, Jarvis herself, who never married, despaired over the fact that Mother’s Day had become so commercialized, and died in bitter disappointment.
Although Mother’s Day is an American-born holiday, Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis were not the first to seek special occasions to honor mothers.
In the Greco-Roman world the Great Mother Goddess (who wore many names, including Rhea and Cybele) was honored with spring rites during the ides of March each year, and mothers, living or dead, were honored during this time.
Christians in England celebrated Mothering Sunday on the fourth Sunday in Lent in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This day became important to children in domestic service who were allowed to return home on this day to see their mothers.