Some Mothers Day History

The first known suggestion for a national Mother's Day in the U.S. was made by Julia Ward Howe in 1872. Here is her proclamation from two years earlier:

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,

"Our husbands shall 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 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 devasted 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 dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow 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 then solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace,

And each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place 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, "Mother's Day Proclamation", Boston, 1870

Best known as the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Howe spoke against slavery and promoted peaceful ways for countries to resolve disputes. She started Mother's Day as a day when women all around the world would speak out for peace. Following unsuccessful efforts to pull together an international pacifist conference after the Franco-Prussian War, Howe began to think of a global appeal to women.

"While the war was still in progress," she wrote, she keenly felt the "cruel and unnecessary character of the contest." She believed, as any woman might, that it could have been settled without bloodshed. And, she wondered, "Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?" Howe's version of Mother's Day, which served as an occasion for advocating peace, was held successfully in Boston and elsewhere for several years, but eventually lost popularity and disappeared from public notice in the years preceding World War I.

Other roots came from Anna (Ana?) Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker, who in 1858 organized "Mother's Work Days" to improve the sanitation and avert deaths from disease-bearing insects and seepage of polluted water.

For Anna Jarvis, also known as "Mother Jarvis," community improvement by mothers was only a beginning. Throughout the Civil War she organized women's brigades, asking her workers to do all they could without regard for which side their men had chosen. And, in 1868, she took the initiative to heal the bitter rifts between her Confederate and Union neighbors.

Anna's daughter, the younger Anna Jarvis, was only twelve years old in 1878 when she listened to her mother teach a Sunday school lesson on mothers in the Bible. "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day," the senior Jarvis said. "There are many days for men, but none for mothers."

Following her mother's death, Anna Jarvis embarked on a remarkable campaign. She poured out a constant stream of letters to men of prominence --President William Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt among them-- and enlisted considerable help from Philadelphia merchant John Wannamaker.

By May of 1907 a Mother's Day service had been arranged on the second Sunday in May at the West Virginia church where Mother Jarvis had taught. That same day a special service was held at the Wannamaker Auditorium in Philadelphia, which could seat no more than a third of the 15,000 people who showed up.

The custom spread to churches in 45 states and in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Mexico and Canada. The Governor of West Virginia proclaimed Mother's Day in 1912; Pennsylvania's governor in 1913 did the same. The following year, 1914, saw a Congressional resolution, which was promptly signed by President Woodrow Wilson.