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The History of Mother’s Day
May 11, 2020 @ 10:00 pm - 11:30 pm
“To My Mother” by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Scottish poet evokes childhood memories in this four-line ode to Mom. It appeared in “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” a collection of 65 poems by Stevenson first published in 1885 under the title “Penny Whistles.”
You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.
The Upcountry History Museum extends its appreciation to mothers across the Upstate and around the globe. Thank you for playing a key role in building and maintaining connections across generations. You are the “kinkeepers” in families and take the lead in passing down family stories, life lessons, and traditions. Honoring this role of mothers is part of the story behind Mother’s Day – but not all of it.
Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who held spring festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea, Cybele, and Magna Mater, but the clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.”
Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return home to their “mother church” – the main church in the vicinity of their home – for a special service.
Over time Mothering Sunday tradition shifted into a more secular holiday, and children would present their mothers with flowers and other tokens of appreciation. This custom eventually faded in popularity before merging with the American Mother’s Day in the 1930s and 1940s.
The origin of Mother’s Day as celebrated in the United Sates dates to the 19th century. In the years before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children.
These clubs later became a unifying voice in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War. In 1868 Jarvis organized “Mother’s Friendship Day,” where mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.
Another precursor to Mother’s Day came from the abolitionist, suffragette and author of the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Julia Ward Howe. In 1870 Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace.
The official Mother’s Day holiday began in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis. Following her mother’s 1905 death, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.
After gaining financial backing from Philadelphia department store owner John Wannamaker, in May 1908, she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. That same day thousands of people attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.
Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis – who remained unmarried and childless her whole life – resolved to see her holiday added to the national calendar. Arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood.
By 1914, Jarvis’ persistence paid off, on May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, declaring it “as a public expression of love and reverence for the mother’s of our country.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Although we should always be grateful for how much the maternal figure in our life does for us, Mother’s Day is the day to really show your appreciation. Whether its your mom, your grandma, an aunt, or someone else, honoring and remembering that person might look a bit different on May 10, 2020 in the wake of the pandemic crisis, luckily there are creative ways to share Mother’s Day greetings and festivities.
We hope that you will share your Mother’s Day 2020 social distancing creativity with the Museum by adding your messages, stories, photos and acts of kindness to the Upcountry History Museum’s COVID-19 Collective Memory initiative by linking to the site www.upcountryremembers.org.