In Webster, Taylor County, West Virginia, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis (1832 – 1905), a social activist, led a women’s group that celebrated an adaptation of Julia Ward Howe’s holiday. She and her daughter Anna Marie Jarvis (1864 – 1948), are now recognized as the founders of the Mother’s Day holiday in the United States.
Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis was born in Culpeper, Virginia, on September 30, 1832, to Rev. Josiah Washington Reeves and his wife, Nancy Kemper Reeves. The family moved to Barbour County in present-day West Virginia when the Rev. Reeves got 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.
In the 1850s, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis lost eight of her 11 children before they reached the age of seven due to poor health conditions in the area. With the help of her brother, Dr James E. Reeves, she organized “Mother’s Friendship Clubs” in Webster, Grafton, Fetterman, Pruntytown, and Philippi, to improve health and sanitary conditions.
Thousands of women learned nursing and proper sanitation. Among other services, 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. In 1860, local doctors helped to form Mother’s Friendship Club in other towns.
During the American Civil War, this noble woman urged the Mother’s Friendship Clubs to declare their neutrality and give relief to both Union and Confederate soldiers. The Club members nursed and cared for soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Following the end of the war, she called on her club members to help mend the wounds of the war by reuniting the Union and Confederate families who fought on opposing sides by holding a “Mother’s Friendship Day.”
The Andrews Methodist Church built at Grafton, West Virginia and dedicated in 1873 was built under her husband’s leadership. Ann Maria Jarvis’ life revolved around the church. She taught Sunday School at the church for more than 20 years. After her husband’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, in Bala Cynwyd, in southeastern Pennsylvania, bordering the western edge of Philadelphia.
After Ann Maria Reeves Reeves’ death, her daughter Anna Marie Jarvis, began a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States to honour her mother’s wish that there be a day set aside to honour all mothers.
In 1908, Anna Marie petitioned the superintendent of the church where her mother had spent over 20 years teaching Sunday School to hold a memorial service to honour her mother who died three years before. Her request was accepted, and on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebration took place at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, and at a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The event in Grafton drew a congregation of 407. Anna Jarvis had arranged for her mother’s favourite flower – white carnations. Two carnations were given to every mother in attendance.
At present times, people use white carnations to pay tribute to deceased mothers, and pink or red carnations to honour living mothers.
In 1912 West Virginia was the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day.
On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson, a friend of Anna Marie Jarvis, signed a Congressional Resolution setting the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to celebrate Mother’s Day.
Soon, other countries too adopted Mother’s Day of Anna Marie Jarvis.
However, by the 1920s, Anna Marie Jarvis felt disappointed with the commercialization of Mother’s Day.
The tradition of honouring Motherhood has its roots in antiquity.
According to the primaeval Egyptian mythology, divine Osiris, the eldest son of the Earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut was the god of fertility, the afterlife, the underworld and the dead.
Osiris was a wise king who brought civilization. His siblings were Horus the Elder, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys. His younger brother Seth was the god of the desert, storms, darkness, and chaos. He was hostile and outright evil. Though they were brothers their diametric personalities made them adversaries.
Osiris was happily married to his sister, Isis while Seth married his other sister Nephthys.
Though Osiris and Seth were brothers, their diametric personalities made them adversaries.
Seth, the envious brother slew Osiris, dismembered him into 13 pieces and scattered the remains all over Egypt. He usurped the throne of his dead brother.
Isis collected the dismembered body of her brother-husband Osiris, reassembled the pieces. As the archetypal mummy, Osiris reigned over the after-world as a king among deserving spirits of the dead.
Isis used the embalmed corpse of Osiris to impregnate herself to conceive posthumously. She gave birth to Horus. She then hid her baby son amidst reeds lest Seth slaughtered him too. Horus grew up as a natural enemy of Seth, defeated him and became the first ruler of a unified Egypt. Isis thus earned her stature as the “Mother of the Pharaohs.“
In ancient Egypt and Ethiopia, Isis was one of the four most widely venerated deities. The ancient Egyptians held an annual festival to honour the goddess Isis as the ideal mother and wife.
The worship of Isis spread throughout the Greco-Roman world as the patroness of nature and magic; friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, and the poor. The rich aristocrats, rulers and maidens prayed to the goddess who was also known as the goddess of children, and protector of the dead.
Despite being a foreign deity, the Romans venerated Isis and reserved a place for her in their temples. The Romans commemorated an important battle with a festival in her name that lasted for three days with female dancers, musicians and singers marking the beginning of winter.
Societies around the world celebrated symbols of motherhood as mythological goddesses and not real human mothers except the Christian Church. The Mother and Son imagery of Isis and Horus, where Isis cradles and suckles her son, and that of the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus is astonishingly similar.
Celebrations in England and Europe
By the 16th century, due to the spread of Christianity, people in England and Europe moved away from the ancient roman religious and cultural traditions. Hilaria, the ancient Roman religious festival celebrated on the vernal equinox to honour Cybele gave way to Laetare Sunday – the fourth Sunday of Lent in the Christian liturgical calendar (the 40 days of fasting preceding Easter Sunday), once known as “the Sunday of the Five Loaves.” Christians in England used this Sunday, to honour the Mother of Christ and decorated the church in which they were baptized, which they knew as their “Mother Church” with flowers and offerings.
In the 17th century, a clerical decree in England referred to the Laetare Sunday as “Mothering Day.” The decree broadened the celebration, from one focused on the “Mother of Christ” and the “Mother Church,” to include real mothers. It became a compassionate holiday toward the working classes of England. During this Lenten Sunday, the masters allowed their servants and trade workers to travel back to their towns of origin to visit their families. Mothering Day also provided a reprieve from the fasting and penance of Lent. Across England family members, living far away came home to visit and enjoy a family feast. The children presented cakes and flowers to their mothers.
Celebrations in America
The first English settlers, the Pilgrims, who came to America discontinued the traditional Mothering Day. They fled from England to practice a more conservative Christianity without being persecuted. In the new land, they lived under harsh conditions and worked long hours to survive. Due to their devotion to God, they ignored secular holidays. For them, even holidays such as Christmas and Easter were sombre occasions that took place in a Church stripped of all extraneous ornamentation.
Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870
In 1870, Julia Ward Howe conceptualized the first North American Mother’s Day with her “Mother’s Day Proclamation.”
Julia Ward (May 27, 1819 — October 17, 1910) born in New York City was a prominent American abolitionist, social activist, and poet. She wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after she and her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, visited Washington, D. C., and met President Abraham Lincoln at the White House in November 1861.
Twelve years later, distraught by the death and carnage of the Civil War, she called on mothers to protest what she saw as “the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers.” She wrote the following “Mother’s Day Proclamation” and called for an international Mother’s Day to celebrate peace and motherhood:
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated Earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonour, nor violence indicates possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.
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 someplace 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.
Julia Ward Howe even proposed converting July 4th into Mother’s Day, to dedicate the nation’s anniversary to peace, but June 2nd was designated for the celebration.
In 1873, women’s groups in 18 North American cities observed this new Mother’s Day. Initially, Julia funded many of these celebrations. Most of them died out when she stopped funding. Boston city, however, continued celebrating Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day for the next ten years.
Despite the failure of her Mother’s Day, Julia Ward had nevertheless planted the seed that blossomed into the modern Mother’s Day.