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The birth of Mother’s Day

Published on The Jewish Voice Rhode Island on April 23, 2015.

The birth of Mother’s Day

For more than one hundred years, Americans have been celebrating  mothers. According to Hallmark Cards Inc., nearly 85 percent of adult men and women celebrate Mother’s Day. However, Mother’s Day was not always a celebratory occasion.

From Mothers’ Day to Mother’s Day

In the 1850s, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis started holding Mothers’ Day work clubs throughout West Virginia as a way for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers. The groups tended to wounded soldiers from both sides during the Civil War, worked to improve sanitary conditions and fought to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination. During the summer of 1865, Jarvis organized an annual Mothers’ Friendship Day to bring people of all political beliefs together to promote peace and goodwill.

Jarvis’ daughter Anna was responsible for Mother’s Day as we know it today. While she never had children, the death of her mother in 1905 inspired her to establish a nationally recognized Mother’s Day. The first official Mother’s Day ceremonies were held in 1908 in Grafton, West Virginia, and Philadelphia. Largely through her efforts, the observances spread to a number of cities and states. Six years later, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made the second Sunday in May an official national holiday.

The rebellion against commercialism

Soon flower shops and card companies began the commercialization of Mother’s Day, which greatly disturbed Jarvis. Perceiving this as a misuse of the holiday, Jarvis sued to stop a Mother’s Day event in 1923 and was also arrested in the 1930s for protesting the sale of flowers and Mother’s Day postage stamps. Jarvis’ fight to keep the holiday an intimate day was unsuccessful. She passed away in 1948 at the age of 84.

Mother’s Day today

Today, Americans spend billions of dollars on Mother’s Day. The National Restaurant Association reported that Mother’s Day is the year’s most popular holiday for dining out, while the National Retail Federation said Mother’s Day accounts for one-fourth of holiday floral purchases.

Although it has its roots in America, mothers are celebrated around the world. Several countries, including the U.S., celebrate on the second Sunday of May. Others, like Thailand, celebrate on different dates.

The theme behind Jarvis’ holiday is the same, no matter the date or country. Everywhere in the world, mothers (and maternal figures) are honored for their devotion to their families. Without mothers, none of us would be here today.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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