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The Founding Mothers of Mother’s Day

Mother's Day 1In the late 1860s, before there was an official Mother’s Day holiday in the U.S., a Methodist mom organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.

When Ann Jarvis was working to establish Mother’s Day as a national event, and when her daughter picked up the mantle from her, they were not thinking about greeting cards and flowers.  Instead the Methodist women who invented the idea in America wanted to honor mothers in a deeper way.

They were thinking about the work of women and the significant testimony that women could give about the need for peace.  Ann Reeves Jarvis organized women’s clubs in the 1860s to serve suffering mothers and children.

Women came together with their sisters in their locations to respond to the needs that they could see. For Ann, she was in a coal mining part of what is now West Virginia. And she could see the needs of women and children. And she could see the effect of the economy of her day on the people that she cared for most directly.  She started mothers clubs. And she talked to them about hydration for fevered babies, about sanitation and nutrition. And then the Civil War came along and they put a field hospital right outside Grafton.

Ann recruited nurses for military hospitals, and after the war formed friendship clubs to promote reconciliation.  Ann Jarvis was convinced that mothers, women, but especially mothers, had to work for peace because they could see the ravages of war in their husbands and in their sons, in a way that was so focused and so clear that their voices would be powerful. And that’s what’s at the genesis of the current Mother’s Day.

In May 1908, Anna Jarvis organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.  There was also a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Phila00delphia on the same day.

Mother's Day 2In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in the USA. Others like Julia Ward Howe and Juliet Calhoun Blakely also advocated for a Mother’s Day type recognition in the U.S. in the late 19th century also.

Mother’s Day is celebrated in a variety of countries.  In Thailand, Mother’s Day is celebrated in August on the birthday of the current queen, Sirikit.  In Ethiopia, families gather each fall to sing songs and eat a large feast as part of Antrosht, a multi-day celebration honoring motherhood.

In the United States, Mother’s Day in 2015 will be celebrated on Sunday, May 10.

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