The last few weeks have been chaos in our house, and despite the stack of magazine clippings and post-it notes constantly reminding me of all the things I want to blog about, I just haven’t a moment to myself to write. Now, on Mother’s Day, both of my boys are napping after a wonderful picnic, so I thought I’d treat myself to a few minutes of blogging before I get back to my “to do” list.
Today is the 100-year anniversary of Mother’s Day. As long as I can remember, Mother’s Day has been a time for flowers (I love the miniature rose bush my boys gave me), cards (this is the first year that my son made – okay, drew on – his own card; I’ll keep it forever!), chocolate (I’m eating some as I type this), and brunch (I am cultivating a tradition of brunch picnics, since I prefer a park to a restaurant any day). I always assumed Mother’s Day was essentially a “Hallmark holiday,” designed to boost flower and card sales in the slump between Easter and graduation season. The truth is, the origins of Mother’s ay are exactly the opposite.
Ann Jarvis was the “mother of Mother’s Day.” The young Appalachian homemaker organized “Mother’s Work Days” to improve local sanitation and avert deaths from disease-bearing insects and seepage of polluted water. The mothers groups also tended to wounded soldiers from both side of the American Civil War. In 1872, Boston poet, pacifist and women’s suffragist Julia Ward Howe (who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) issued a widely read “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace and establishing a day to celebrate mothers who’d lost sons in war.
When Ann Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna Jarvis organized the first Mother’s Day observances on May 10 in her honor. The celebrations became annual gatherings in cities around the country, and Anna Jarvis vigorously lobbied Congress to make the holiday official. Finally, starting in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
I always thought it was “Mothers’ Day,” as in, a day to celebrate mothers, but in fact, Anna Jarvis was adamant that the holiday be “Mother’s Day,” meant for honoring only one’s own mother(s). When florists, confectioners, and card-makers siezed on the holiday as a marketing opportunity, Anna Jarvis fought to preserve her vision of an intimate, family-centered day. She incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association and organized boycotts, threatened lawsuits, and even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities. Anna Jarvis could have profited from being the originator of Mother’s Day, but instead, she lost everything – all of her resources, her health, and eventually her mind – in trying to contain the commercialization of the day she’d founded in her own mother’s memory. Ironically, Anna Jarvis never had children, and she died penniless and alone in a sanitarium in 1948.
Of course, Anna Jarvis succeeded in founding a holiday that has spread around the world (most countries do not celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May, however, and a few – like England, had holidays for moms long before the U.S.), but failed in preventing its commercialization. Today, nearly 140 million cards are purchased in American for Mother’s Day, even though there are only approximately 84 million moms. And about one-fourth of all floral purchases are made for Mother’s Day.
Still, in the scheme of things, it is still nice to have a day to celebrate both having a mom (I love you!) and being a mom (best thing in the world). And I really like my rose bush . . . .
Mother’s Day 2014
(how quickly they grow up!)