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A Brief History of Mothers Day


A Brief History of Mothers Day

By Elaine B. Holtz

Mother’s Day is the 2nd Sunday of May. Mother’s Day has flourished in the United States and has become the most popular days of the year to dine out. Telephone lines record their highest traffic, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to express appreciation of their mothers. But it has not always been that way.

Mother’s Day has a long history and has gone through many changes. Early tributes to mothers include the annual spring festival the Greeks dedicated to Rhea, the mother of many deities, and to the offerings ancient Romans made to their Great Mother of Gods, Cybele. Christians celebrated this festival on the fourth Sunday in Lent in honor of Mary, mother of Christ. In England this holiday was expanded to include all mothers and was called Mothering Sunday

In the United States Mother’s Day was originally started after the Civil War, as a protest to the carnage of that war, by women who had lost their sons. The story begins in 1858 when a community activist named Anna Reeves Jarvis organized Mothers’ Works Days in West Virginia. Her immediate goal was to improve sanitation in Appalachian communities. During the Civil War, Jarvis pried women from their families to care for the wounded on both sides. Afterward she convened meetings to persuade men to lay aside their hostilities.

In 1872, Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, proposed an annual Mother’s Day for Peace. Committed to abolishing war, Howe wrote: “Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage... 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”. For the next 30 years, Americans celebrated Mothers’ Day for Peace on June 2 

Here is the original Mother’s Day Proclamation written by Howe in 1870.

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. From

the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.

It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance

of justice.”

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons

of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a

great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, 

to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the

means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each

bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, 

but of God.

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


In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson established Mother’s Day, after years of lobbying Anna Marie Jarvis, the daughter of the mother of the holiday, Anna Reeves Jarvis as we know it. By then, the growing consumer culture had successfully redefined women as consumers for their families. Politicians and businessmen eagerly embraced the idea of celebrating the private sacrifices made by individual mothers. As the Florists’ Review, the industry’s trade journal, bluntly put it, “This was a holiday that could be exploited.” Sadly the peace and anti war component became overlooked. 

When I look at some of the history around Mother’s Day I begin to imagine a new way of celebrating it. Perhaps have it be a day when families gather and their mothers talk of peace and explore ways to bring about social and economic justice, an end to war and a sustainable future.

I often think about Mother’s Day and its original intent and cannot help but hope that once again mothers and as women we all have the potential to be mothers, stand up and say enough is enough and call for an end to war and all the suffering it creates. There is a lot more to find out about Mother’s Day and for starters go to’s_Day


Interesting that Mrs Howe who wrote a song calling for the death of Southerners was a woman of peace?

Human beings are very contradictory.

Interesting article.

R Webb


That is so true. I just finished a novel called March - written by Geraldine Brooks from the perspective of the Little Women’s father who went off to war to be the clergy for Union soldiers. He and his wife, Marmee had run an Underground Railroad house and were very involved in freeing slaves. It’s a very painful and insightful journey through the Civil War. ~ Vesta