By Clyde Davis: Columnist
Anna Jarvis, who between the years of 1908 and 1914 negotiated the path for making Mother’s Day a national holiday, is frequently recognized as the founder of this holiday. Beginning with an attempt to honor her own mother, the idea spread — and was fueled — by her efforts to have the second Sunday in May designated to honor moms.
Prior to this however, Julia Ward Howe, during the mid 1800s, had begun a movement to have June 2 recognized as a day for mothers, as well as a day for peace. Ms. Howe, born in 1819, some may recognize as the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. She was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement and actively engaged in political issues of her time.
In 1870, Howe wrote and published a proclamation of a day for mothers, but this was far more politically geared than our traditional concept. It was, in fact, a part of a peace movement that reacted against the recently ended Civil War, and urged mothers to quit sacrficing their sons. A piece of that proclamation follows, one which might well speak to us today.
“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 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 peace.”
Some of this ties into the story of Anna Jarvis. You see, it was Anna’s mother, also named Anna, who took Julia Howe’s idea to a women’s group in West Virginia and adapted the idea in the 1870’s. West Virginia was a state still in healing from a divided stance during the Civil War, and Anna Sr. and her friends believed that this could be a symbolic aid to that healing process, reuniting north and south. When her mother died, years later, the younger Jarvis began her campaign for national recognition.
Before the colonial era, a different but related concept, mothering day, had been a recognized part of the English calendar. During the 1600s this recognition was given, again in a clerical or churchly context, and was in fact part of a larger theme. That larger theme was awareness and honoring of the working class. This particular celebration came during the season of Lent and offered a reprieve from the fasting which was a part of that season.
When the colonists came to America, they discontinued the practice. The cessation of mothering day seems to have been spurred by the Puritans, who had such a no-nonsense approach to life and who, it seems to me, did very little in the way of celebrating anything.
Today, many countries celebrate, though at different times and in different ways, a day to honor and revere mothers. In the midst of the flowers and the candy, we would do well to remember the guiding themes, however. The old English theme, awareness of the common folks, and the newer, still pertinent theme of uniting in a world devoted to peace not bloody conflict. Both of these are still meaningful today, as statements to be made and voices to be heard.