Mothers have been celebrated over the centuries in varying forms and traditions since possibly before Roman times.
In the 1600s’ the Church of England instigated ‘Mothering Sunday’ in recognition of Mary the Mother of Jesus. Later this religious celebration was expanded to include honouring all mothers.
As time passed the celebration became less popular in many churches, however some Anglican churches still celebrate Mothering Sunday.
The seed for Mother’s Day as we celebrate it today had its beginning in 1858 with Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis. She was a Christian lady who was working to heal the nation before, during and after the American Civil War.
Her strategy was to promote and elevate the important role of mothers and help them to create healthier and more hygienic homes.
From this she instigated a ‘Mothers’ Friendship Day’ which eventually developed into an important movement called ‘Mothers’ Friendship Clubs’. At these clubs Ann would teach the mothers basic nursing and safe sanitation practices to be used in the home. Ann’s brother was a famous physician and she had learned these skills from him.
Many lives were saved as a result. The child mortality rate was very high at the time. Ann had had eleven children and only three of these had reached adulthood.
Anna Jarvis - her daughter
Also, by offering this service to both sides involved in the American Civil War, it helped facilitate a reconciliation process between Union and Confederate neighbours.
When Ann Maria Jarvis passed away after a long illness, one of her two daughters, Anna Jarvis, decided to dedicate her life to her mother’s dream of establishing a Mother’s Day to honour all mothers around the world.
Anna missed her mother greatly and felt that children often neglected to appreciate their mothers enough while they were still alive.
As a Sunday school teacher for twenty years Anna had many times over taught the Fifth of the Ten Commandments, ‘Honour your father and mother’.
She told her friends about her desire to bring her mother’s dream to fruition and they heartily endorsed it. The first such service was held at her church and she handed out her mother’s favourite flower, the White Carnation. At first, people observed Mother’s Day by attending church and writing letters to their mothers.
After much letter writing and lobbying from Anna the second Sunday in May was proclaimed as Mother’s Day in 1910, by the Governors of Oklahoma and West Virginia. The acceptance of this celebration throughout the USA was breathtaking. By 1911 there was not one state in the USA that did not have its own observance of Mother’s Day.
On May 9th 1914, President Woodrow Wilson, proclaimed the second Sunday in May a national holiday for Mother’s Day. It was not long before the Mother’s Day celebration was embraced by other nations as far away as Japan, China, Africa, South America and some Asian countries.
The success of the rapid commercialisation and exploitation of this sacred celebration of Mothers caused Anna much grief. She went on to spend her inheritance fighting against the abuse of this Christian institution and said that she “wished she would never have started the day because it became so out of control”.
In spite of Anna Jarvis’s misgivings, Mother’s Day has flourished around the world. The second Sunday in May has become a most popular day to dine out, and telephone lines record their highest traffic as Mothers are remembered and honoured.
Let us not forget the original intention as set out by God to always celebrate and honour the mothers in our families, churches and society.
It is fundamental for the health of society, that we respect and honour our parents. Ann and Anna’s efforts have helped societies across the world to do this.
Graham McDonald is a director of DIDUNO.