“I Just Came Home To Count the Memories” by country singer John Anderson is one of my favorite songs. With Mother’s Day almost upon us, that song comes to mind bringing with it mixed feelings of joy and sorrow. Mother’s Day is a day of celebration...both for the mothers we still have and for those we did have.
Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who held festivals in honor of their mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele, but the one that set the stage for today is the early Christian festival known as Mothering Sunday.
Mothering Sunday was once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. This celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church”, the main church in the vicinity of their home, for a special service.
Over time the Mothering Sunday tradition shifted into a more secular holiday, and children would present their mothers with flowers and other tokens of appreciation. The custom eventually merged with the American Mother’s Day in the 1900’s.
In the years before the Civil War, Anne Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children. In 1868, Anne organized “Mother’s Friendship Day” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers in an effort to promote peace and unity in a country still divided by the Civil War.
The official Mother’s Day holiday in the United States came about thanks to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Anne Reeves Jarvis. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna came up with the idea of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.
After gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia store owner named John Wanamaker in May 1908, Anna organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. That same day thousands of people also attended a Mother’s Day event in one of John’s retail stores in Philadelphia.
Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Anna, who remained unmarried and childless her entire life, was determined to see the holiday added to the national calendar. She started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood.
By 1912 many states, towns and churches had adopted the Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Anna had established Mother’s Day International Association to help promote her cause. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Anna had envisioned Mother’s Day as a day of personal celebration between mothers and their families with the mothers wearing white carnations as badges of honor, and families visiting or attending church services with their mothers. However, when Mother’s Day became a national holiday, it was not long before florists, card companies and other merchants capitalized on its popularity.
By 1920 Anna had become so disgusted with how the holiday had been commercialized that she denounced the transformation and urged people to stop buying Mother’s Day cards, flowers and candies. She launched countless lawsuits against groups that had used the “Mother’s Day” name, spending most of her personal wealth in legal fees. By the time of her death in 1948 Anna had disowned the holiday altogether and even lobbied the government to see it removed from the American calendar.
At times, Mother’s Day has also been a date for launching political or feminist causes. In 1968, Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., used Mother’s Day to host a march in support of underprivileged women and children. In the 1970s women’s groups also used the holiday as a time to highlight the need for equal rights and access to child care.
In the United States, Mother’s Day continues to be celebrated by presenting mothers, and other women, with gifts and flowers, and it has become one of the biggest