Reflections: Remembering Mother
By William L. Bulla
Mother's Day! It's a day for commemoration and celebration for mothers. It's a time to show our gratitude for everything mothers do.
It's a time to pamper your mother for all she has done for you over the years. If your mother is not living, it is a time to remember her love for you.
Celebrating motherhood is a historical tradition dating back almost as far as mothers, themselves. A number of ancient cultures paid tribute to mothers as goddesses, including the ancient Greeks, who celebrated Rhea, the mother of all gods, and the ancient Romans, who honored their mother goddess, Cybele.
Later, in the 1600's, in England there was an annual observance called "Mothering Sunday." This holiday featured the reunification of mothers and their children, separated when working class families had to send off their young children to be employed as house servants. On Mothering Sunday, the child servants were allowed to return home for the day to visit with their parents. The holiday's popularity faded in the 19th century, only to be reincarnated during World War II when U.S. servicemen reintroduced the sentimental aspects by celebrating their American counterpart.
Many believe that two woman, Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis, were important in establishing the tradition of Mother's Day in the United States. Around 1870, Julia Ward Howe called for Mother's Day to be celebrated each year to encourage pacifism and disarmament amongst women. It continued to be held in Boston for about ten years under her sponsorship, but died out after that.
Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis' work with women's organizations inspired her daughter, Anna to later create Mother's Day as a national holiday. Ann was born in Culpepper, Virginia, on September 30, 1832, the daughter of the Rev. Josiah W. and Nancy Kemper Reeves. The family moved to Barbour County in present-day West Virginia when the Rev. Reeves was transferred to a Methodist church in Philippi. In 1850, Ann married Granville E. Jarvis, the son of a Philippi Baptist minister. Two years later, Granville and Ann Jarvis moved to nearby Webster in Taylor County.
Jarvis organized a series of Mothers' Day Work Clubs in several towns, to improve health and sanitary conditions. The clubs raised money for medicine, hired women to work for families in which the mothers suffered from tuberculosis, and inspected bottled milk and food. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad made Taylor County a strategic site during the Civil War. Ann Jarvis urged the Mothers' Day Work Clubs to declare their neutrality and provide relief to both Union and Confederate soldiers. The clubs treated the wounded and fed and clothed soldiers stationed in the area regularly. Jarvis also managed to preserve an element of peace in a community being torn apart by political differences. During the war, she worked tirelessly despite the personal tragedy of losing four of her children to disease. In all, eight of her twelve children died before reaching adulthood.
Near the end of the war, the Jarvis family moved to the larger town of Grafton. Tensions increased as both Union and Confederate soldiers returned at war's end. In the summer of 1865, Ann Jarvis organized a Mothers' Friendship Day at the courthouse in Pruntytown to bring together soldiers and neighbors of all political beliefs. The event was a great success despite the fear of many that it would erupt in violence. Mothers' Friendship Day was an annual event for several years.
Ann Jarvis' life revolved around the church. Under Granville's leadership, the Andrews Methodist Church was built in Grafton and dedicated in 1873. Anna taught Sunday school at the church for the next twenty-five years. After Granville's death in 1902, Ann moved to Philadelphia to live with her son, Claude and daughters, Anna and Lillian. Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis died on May 9, 1905.
When Ann Jarvis died, her daughter, Anna, began a campaign to memorialize the life work of her mother. Anna began to lobby prominent businessmen and politicians including Presidents Taft and Roosevelt to support her campaign to create a special day to honor mothers. John Wanamaker, a clothing merchant from Philadelphia, supported Anna's campaign financially.
The first official Mother's Day ceremonies were held at Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton and the Wanamaker Store Auditorium in Philadelphia on May 10, 1908. Six years later, on May 9, 1914, by an act of Congress, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. He established the day as a time for "public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.
At the first Grafton ceremony, Anna Jarvis gave a white 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.
Mother's Day has flourished in the United States. It has become an increasingly important event for businesses in recent years, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to honor and to express appreciation of their mothers with cards and gifts.
She is a treasure. Tell her, if you can, how important she has been in your life.
William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.