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Article Archive >> Mother's Day

Why Do We Celebrate Mother's Day?

Anna Marie (black)
Anna Reeves Jarvis (white)



"Why Do We Celebrate Mother's Day?"
by William L. Bulla

Do you know why we celebrate Mother's Day? Do you know how that special day happened to come about? This special day, when we honor our mothers, came about in a rather strange way. It was originally designed for a group of mothers to share grief over their sons fighting in the Civil War.
Early "Mother's Day" in the U.S. was mostly marked by women's peace groups of mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the American Civil War. There were several local celebrations in the 1870s and the 1880s, but none achieved national recognition.
During the Civil War, Anna Reeves Jarvis, who felt the pain that all mothers feel when they see their children suffering and dying, organized a special day for mothers who had sons fighting on both sides. A day of prayer. A day for peace.
Later during the war, another woman, Julia Ward Howe, who wrote a great and rousing hymn, "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord", organized a Mothers' Day meeting in her home town of Boston.
In 1868, Jarvis created a committee to establish a "Mother's Friendship Day" whose purpose was "to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War", and she wanted to expand it into an annual memorial for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the celebration became popular.
Anna Marie Jarvis, the daughter of the Anna Reeves Jarvis, taught in Grafton, West Virginia schools for seven years. After the death of her father, she and her family moved to Philadelphia, where her mother died in 1905. In the year 1907, Anna Marie Jarvis suggested a national observance of a day each year, a day to honor all mothers. Like her mother before her, she was very concerned about the neglectful treatment of mothers by their adult children. After a long campaign, on May 10th, 1908, the third anniversary of her mother's death, the first official Mother's Day Service was held at Andrew's Methodist Church (known today as the Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church) in Grafton, West Virginia. The theme of the service was Christian love for our mothers. At this service, Anna Jarvis gave a carnation, which was her mother's favorite flower, to each person who attended. That idea caught on, and by the time Mother's Day became a national event, everybody had more or less developed the habit of giving and wearing carnations on Mother's Day. White carnations are worn to honor mothers who have died, and red or pink ones to honor mothers who are here with us.
The holiday was declared officially by the state of West Virginia in 1910, and the rest of states followed shortly thereafter. On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation, declaring the first national Mother's Day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.
In 1934, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a stamp commemorating the holiday.
The Grafton's church, where the first celebration was held, is now the International Mother's Day Shrine and is a National Historic Landmark.

William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.

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