Millions of Americans are celebrating their moms today, but how did Mother’s Day all begin?
According to History.com, celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Romans and Greeks who held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. The earliest tradition was started by the Christians as “Mothering Sunday.”
But the modern idea for Mother’s Day was a little different than what the American holiday has grown into. The celebrations we hold now stem from women who lived in the 1800s. A West Virginia woman, Ann Reeves Jarvis, helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children and prevent infant mortality.
Jarvis also started so-called women’s brigades during the Civil War era to promote unity among mothers. According to Almanac.com, this grew into a Mothers’ Friendship Day designed to promote peace between Confederate and Union families.
Julia Ward Howe, who penned the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” similarly pushed for Mother’s Day of Peace to celebrate the end of the bloodshed. Both Jarvis and Howe’s successes were limited, according to Military.com, but they helped foreground the idea of celebrating the stability and sacrifice offered by mothers.
Anna M. Jarvis, the daughter of Ann Jarvis, spearheaded the final, successful Mother’s Day movement in the early part of the 20th century to celebrate the sacrifices that mothers made. Three years after her mother died, Jarvis ushered in the first Mother’s Day with a church celebration in Grafton, West Virginia. Thousands of people also attended a celebration at a retail store in Philadelphia.
Jarvis said American holidays were biased toward male achievements, so she started a massive letter-writing campaign to the media and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood. Jarvis fought for Mother’s Day to become a holiday until 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
The original intention for Mother’s Day was for people to wear white carnation badges, spend time with their mothers or attend church services.
As time went on, Jarvis became disgusted by the way the holiday was commercialized. History.com said that the holiday remains one of the highest for consumer spending.
By the time of her death in 1948, Jarvis disowned the holiday and asked for it to be moved from the American calendar.
Different countries around the world celebrate in different ways. In Thailand, Mother’s Day is always celebrated in August on the current queen Sirikit’s birthday.
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 continues to be celebrated when children and spouses give mothers and other women gifts and flowers. They also handle cooking and chores for them.
In the 1970s, women also used the day as a time to advocate for equal rights and access to childcare.