The History Of Mother's Day And How It Became A Holiday

By Tanya Diente, Parent Herald May 12, 11:10 am
People have Anna Jarvis to thank for putting Mother's Day on the calendar as an official holiday. She championed a movement that called for people to honor their mothers after the Civil War.
(Photo : Nelson Almeida | AFP/Getty Images)

Mother's Day happens on the second Sunday of May and is celebrated with flowers, presents, and gatherings to thank mothers for their love and care. However, it was a somber affair when it originated during the Civil War.

Mother's Day History

The celebration of Mother's Day in the United States dates back to 19th Century West Virginia before the Civil War. Ann Reeves Jarvis formed a group called Mothers' Day Work Clubs in a bid to lower the rate of infant deaths. The group taught mothers how to properly care for their children, fight diseases, and improve sanitary conditions.

The group extended their help to the wounded soldiers from both sides when the war broke out in 1861. Jarvis later transformed the group into a peace-focused movement after the war had ended in 1865. She started the Mother's Friendship Day picnics in an effort to unite the Confederate and the Union soldiers.

Jarvis's movement later inspired a couple of women to follow her footsteps. Suffragette and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" writer Julia Ward Howe campaigned for a holiday called "Mother's Peace Day" to be celebrated every June 2. She also wrote the "Mother's Day Proclamation" in 1870. Activist Juliet Calhoun Blakely also called for a local Mother's Day to be celebrated in her hometown of Michigan in 1870.

However, it was not until Jarvis' death in 1905 that the United States recognized Mother's Day as an official holiday, thanks to her daughter Anna. Anna organized a Mother's Day celebration at a church in West Virginia in 1908.

By 1912, she made it her goal to put the holiday on the calendar. She started the Mother's Day International Association and launched a letter campaign and asked government officials to reconsider it as an official holiday.

Official Holiday

President Woodrow Wilson made Mother's Day an official holiday on the calendar in 1914. However, Anna started campaigning against the celebration when local businesses turned it into a profit-making holiday instead of it being about sentiment.

She called those who tried to make money out of the day as pirates and charlatans. She went door-to-door urging people to sign the petition in the removal of Mother's Day on the calendar, but her efforts were futile.

To this day, Mother's Day is still commercial but children also pay tribute to their mothers for the sacrifices they made. As Anna used to say, Mother's Day is about honoring the "best mother who ever lived - your mother."

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