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Mother's Day Her-StoryWhile the Feminist
Heritage Minute tells the essence of the story, the true history of Mother's Day is a fascinating one – read on to learn more.
A day rooted in social activismThe inspiration for a national Mother's Day came from a West Virginian woman and mother of eleven who suffered through the loss of eight of her children. In 1858 at only 26, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis organized women in her area into Mothers Day Work Clubs to improve the health and sanitation conditions in her county. During the American Civil War, she was adamant her clubs stay neutral, and they courageously nursed soldiers from both sides. When the war ended, she arranged the first Mothers Friendship Day in 1868 to reconcile friends and families torn apart by the bitter conflict, and the holiday was celebrated on several occasions after.
Mothers' Day For Peace (1870)
Influenced by Ann Jarvis and reeling from the carnage left over from the American Civil War, the prominent Boston writer, abolitionist, and suffragist Julia Ward Howe issued a Mothers' Day Proclamation in 1870, calling on women around the world to unite to end war. (Click here to read an excerpt of this stirring text.) She saw mothers as being uniquely invested in stopping the killing of each others sons, and worked to have a Mothers' Day for Peace recognized on June 2. Though it never really caught on, in recent years Mother's Day has been reclaimed by the American peace movement in actions to end the Iraq War.
Memorial Mothers Day (1908)When Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis passed away, her daughter Anna vowed to realize her mother's dream of a day commemorating mothers and the "matchless service rendered to humanity." On the second Sunday of May 1908, the third anniversary of her mother's death, 15,000 people showed up at a Philadelphia church to celebrate a general memorial day for all mothers. Anna also began the custom of wearing a carnation on Mother's Day, a pure and inexpensive symbol of love and respect.
Mother's Day goes national... and loses its original meaning (1914)By 1909, Canada, Mexico, and 45 U.S. States were celebrating Mothers Day. In 1914, it was declared a U.S. national holiday. But thanks to tinkering by officials, the apostrophe was moved and it became "Mother's Day," a day to celebrate the individual mother and her work in the home, thus changing the collective nature and meaning of every Mothers Day that had come before.
Anna "Rebel" JarvisIn many ways, the story of Mother's Day is the story of Anna Jarvis. She is the embodiment of the dutiful daughter and consummate activist, dedicating her life to pay tribute to her own mother. But her fierce nature really comes through when she began her unsuccessful lifelong fight against its commercialization. When carnation prices rose she attacked florists as pirates and racketeers whose greed was undermining the noble spirit of the day. In the 1930s, she was arrested protesting a meeting of the American War Mothers who were selling carnations to raise money. She even incorporated Mother's Day and threatened to sue anyone who infringed on the patent. Anna Jarvis would spend the rest of her life and her fortune bitterly trying to take back the day. And though she was never a mother herself, she is considered to be the mother of Mother's Day. Anna Jarvis spent her last days in a nursing home; penniless after her long struggle, her bills were paid (without her knowledge) by the American Florists' Exchange.
Mother's Day today
While Julia Ward Howe's dream of a worldwide women's congress for peace did not come to pass as such, women around the world have been gathering together for decades to build international alliances and common cause – at international conferences such as in Cairo or Beijing, in national meetings and networks, and every day through online and phone relationships. More than a hundred and fifty years after Mother's Day was first celebrated, there are women in every country who are working for safer, healthier, more peaceful communities and societies.
Inter Pares works with women and men who share our desire for a world free from sexism, inequality and war. We strengthen local and national movements by raising money and generating political support for their work, collaborating in developing plans of action, connecting them with like-minded groups, and engaging in policy advocacy and public education in Canada. In each case, we bring a special support to women's leadership, and a feminist analysis to problems and potential approaches. Whether the initiatives focus on building peaceful societies, healthy communities, ecological agriculture, or just economies, the common threads that bind them are solidarity and social justice – supporting marginalized communities to build better futures.
This Mother's Day, take back the holiday's original meaning: give a day's tribute to the women in your life by supporting women who are bringing about generations of change.