The Origins of the Two Mother’s Days

Before becoming the commercial holiday it is now, the Mother’s Day we celebrate on the second Sunday in May was originally about other issues, such as battlefield hospital sanitation and world peace. As Mother’s Day on the Net says in “The History (AKA Her-Story) of Mother’s Day”:

“In the United States, Mother’s Day experienced a series of false starts before eventually transitioning into the “Hallmark” holiday that we celebrate today. In 1858, Anna Reeves Jarvis was the first woman to hold an official celebration of mothers, when in her home state of West Virginia, she instituted Mothers’ Work Day to raise awareness about local sanitation issues. During the Civil War, she expanded the scope of Mothers’ Work Day to include sanitary conditions on both sides of the battlefield.”

In 1870, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” author Julia Ward Howe, appalled at the bloodshed of the American Civil War, proposed making it a Mother’s Day for Peace, as “Julia Ward Howe: Beyond the Battle Hymn of the Republic” at About.com states:

“In 1870, Julia Ward Howe took on a new issue and a new cause. Distressed by her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the two most important causes of the world (the other being equality in its many forms) and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War, she called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts. She issued a Declaration, hoping to gather together women in a congress of action.”

Not surprisingly, a world Mother’s Day for Peace never received the support of the politicians that the later commercialized version would. From the About.com article:

“Anna Jarvis’ daughter, also named Anna Jarvis, would of course have known of her mother’s work, and the work of Julia Ward Howe. Much later, when her mother died, this second Anna Jarvis started her own crusade to found a memorial day for women. The first such Mother’s Day was celebrated in West Virginia in 1907 in the church where the elder Anna Jarvis had taught Sunday School. And from there the custom caught on spreading eventually to 45 states. Finally the holiday was declared officially by states beginning in 1912, and in 1914 the President, Woodrow Wilson, declared the first national Mother’s Day.”

Even Anna Jarvis, the daughter, would later regret the commercialization of Mother’s Day, especially the use of pre-printed holiday cards rather than handwritten personal messages. From Wikipedia:

“Nine years after the first official Mother’s Day, commercialization of the U.S. holiday became so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become and spent all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration.” [] “She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and she finally said that she ‘wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control’ …”

The Second Mother’s Day

President Jimmy Carter first proclaimed a second Mother’s Day honoring women working inside and outside the home on August 31, 1980; President Ronald Reagan in 1982, picking up Carter’s idea, officially designated September 5, 1982, as “Working Mother’s Day” which called upon “families, individual citizens, labor and civic organizations, the media, and the business community to acknowledge the importance of the mothers who work inside or outside the home and to express appreciation for their role in American society.” Yes, ‘acknowledge the importance’ and ‘express appreciation,’ but, ever the corporate Republican, Reagan never advocated raising the pay and benefits of women in the work force, and opposed laws to improve their working conditions. That would be socialism or something.

At any rate, if you’re a mother, Happy Mother’s Day — we couldn’t have done it without you, no matter what ‘it’ is.

R.S. Janes. LTSaloon.org.