Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Mother’s Day is just two days away, and this year’s celebration will mark the 100th anniversary of the holiday’s official establishment. On this day in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Congressional Resolution recognizing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day – a day to thank women for their contributions to society. The roots of today’s Mom’s Day, however, can be traced back several decades earlier, to the years leading up to and immediately following the Civil War. It was in the late 1850s and 1860s that West Virginian and social activist Anna Reeves Jarvis began organizing Mother’s Work Days as events to raise awareness of public health issues. The causes that Jarvis championed, such as food sanitation oversight and access to health education, were especially relevant to war widows and working class women struggling to raise their children in Reconstruction America.
During this same time period, another strong female activist and suffragette, Julia Ward Howe, published a poem entitled “A Mother’s Day Proclamation” (1870) which called for similar attention to be paid to the unique and significant challenges of motherhood. Howe’s views were also influenced by her exposure to the carnage of the American Civil War as well as the Franco-Prussian War. Believing that the startling loss of lives associated with both wars was utterly unnecessary, Howe vocally promoted the need for women to be take part in the political sphere, including conflict resolution. By Howe’s estimation, war could be avoided entirely if women were allowed to negotiate for peace.
“Arise then…women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will 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, the 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 voice of a 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 plough 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 solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace… Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God – In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality, May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And 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, “A Mother’s Day Proclamation”
It was ultimately the daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis, also named Anna Jarvis, who was able to secure national recognition of an official Mother’s Day. Following the death of the former, Jarvis organized a Mother’s Day service in May of 1907 at the Methodist Church where her mother had done the bulk of her community outreach. This day of recognition was then picked up by additional Methodists churches and congregations of other denominations. By the time President Wilson announced the creation of Mother’s Day, churches in nearly every state were already celebrating the holiday each spring.
While the tone of Mother’s Day has changed dramatically over the last century, the basic purpose of the holiday remains intact. So no matter how you will be celebrating on Sunday, remember to thank the mothers in your life for all that they do.
Of course, our tribute to the moms of Latah County would not be complete without a few finds from our photo and archival collections. Enjoy!
To learn more about the history of Mother’s Day, visit the National Women’s History Project at http://www.nwhp.org/news/history_of_mothersday.php.