MOTHERS' DAY-IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT THE CARDS AND THE FLOWERS!
~ Lynn Wenzel
During this month, let's remember the true genesis of Mother's Day. It was the brainchild of Julia Ward Howe who, heartbroken at the carnage and death from the Civil War, wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1861 as a way to express her sadness and outrage.
Howe, born in 1819 in New York, was well-read and "frighteningly brilliant," keeping company with the likes of Charles Dickens and Margaret Fuller, and extremely well-educated for a woman of her time. In 1843, she married Samuel Gridley, who was eighteen years older than she. Despite his altruistic leanings, he was a tyrannical and overbearing husband who resented her writing for publication and her desire for emancipation. Howe was miserably unhappy in her marriage and secretly published many plays, dramas and poetry that, often, railed against women's roles as wives and their subordinate place in society. Eventually the couple separated.
After the Civil War, Howe focused her energies almost exclusively on the causes of
woman suffrage and, eventually, abolition. She was president of many New England suffrage associations and a founder of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. She was also the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1870, she wrote her "Appeal to Womanhood throughout the World," later known as the Mother's Day Proclamation. It asked women to join together for world peace. Howe died of pneumonia in 1910 at the age of 91.
After further organizing and activism by Anna Jarvis, the daughter of a friend of Howe's, Mother's Day was finally officially established in 1914 under President Wilson.
Unfortunately, it did not maintain its original purpose of peace, equality and justice, instead becoming increasingly commercialized. As the Florists' Review in 1913 put it, "This was a holiday that could be exploited." The advertising industry quickly moved Americans into ultimately supporting a billion-dollar industry.
As Author Ruth Rosen says, "Americans may revere the idea of motherhood and love their own mothers, but not all mothers. Poor, unemployed mothers may enjoy flowers, but they also need child care, job training, healthcare, a higher minimum wage and paid parental leave...Imagine a Mother's Day filled with voices demanding social and economic justice and a sustainable future, rather than speeches studded with syrupy platitudes."
Perhaps we can all join hands and work to honor the original meaning of Mother's Day--a world free of the scourge of war, that lifts all peoples, that honors all races and creeds, and makes it finally possible to dry the tears of mothers who mourn sons and daughters gone on the battlefield too soon.
Here is a portion of Howe's plea:
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of fears! Say, firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."
Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1870
MORE ABOUT MOTHER'S DAY
~ Judy McCarrick
After Julia Ward Howe came Anna Jarvis, who, though she never married or had children, is also known as the Mother of Mother's Day, an apt title for the woman who worked hard to bestow honor on all mothers. Anna Jarvis was inspired by her own mother, Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis, who was an activist and social worker. Anna Jarvis felt strongly that someday someone must honor all mothers, living and dead, and pay tribute to the contributions they made.
On May 10, 1908, three years after her mother's death, Jarvis held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother--and all mothers--at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church
which is now the
International Mother's Day Shrine
in Grafton, West Virginia. This marked the first official observance of Mother's Day.
Largely through Anna Jarvis's efforts, Mother's Day came to be observed in a growing number of cities and states until President Woodrow Wilson officially designated the second Sunday in May as
Mother's Day in 1914
But Jarvis's success soon turned to failure, at least in her own eyes.
Anna Jarvis's idea of an intimate Mother's Day quickly became a commercial gold mine, centering on the buying and giving of flowers, candies, and greeting cards--a development that deeply disturbed Jarvis. She set about dedicating herself and her sizable inheritance to returning Mother's Day to its reverent roots.
Jarvis incorporated herself as the Mother's Day International Association and tried to retain some control of the holiday. She organized boycotts, threatened lawsuits, and even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother's Day to raise funds for charities. In opposition to the flower industry's exploitation of the holiday, Jarvis wrote, "What will you do to route [sic] charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?"
Despite her efforts, flower sales on Mother's Day continued to grow. Florist's Review wrote, "Miss Jarvis was completely squelched." Anna Jarvis died in 1948, blind, poor and childless. Ironically, Jarvis would never know that it was The Florist's Exchange that had anonymously paid for her care.