Mother’s Day and May Crowning

The beginning of Mother’s Day in the United States is usually attributed to a declaration made in 1873 by Julia Ward Howe in which she asked all woman to come together to work for peace. Julia is best known as the author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which she wrote in 1862. After the publication of the poem, Julia became more famous, and she began to give public speeches, many of which were against war. Julia had witnessed first-hand some of the worst effects of the Civil War – not only the death and disease that killed and maimed the soldiers, but the widows and orphans who were left behind.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe took on a new issue and a new cause. She determined that peace was one of the most important causes of the world. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to promote common values and to commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts. Her original idea was to seek formal recognition of a “Mother’s Day for Peace.” Her idea was influenced by Anna Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker who in 1858 had attempted to improve sanitation through “Mothers’ Work Days.” She organized women throughout the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors.

Anna Jarvis’ daughter was also named Anna, and she continued the work of her mother and the work of Julia Howe. Much later, when her mother died, the second Anna Jarvis started her own crusade to found a memorial day for women. The first such Mother’s Day was celebrated in West Virginia in 1907 in the church where the elder Anna Jarvis had taught Sunday School. On that day she passed out 500 white carnations – one for each mother in the congregation. The custom caught on – spreading eventually to 45 states. In 1914 the U.S. Congress passed a Joint Resolution, and President Woodrow Wilson signed it, establishing “Mother’s Day” to emphasize a women’s role in the family (and not as activists in the public arena, as Howe’s Mother’s Day had been). One thing important to note is that the apostrophe in “Mother’s Day” is in between the “r” and the “s,” indicating the original meaning of the day, which is to honor one’s own Mother, rather than Mothers in general. It’s interesting that the Anna Jarvis who succeeded in making Mother’s Day a national holiday never became a mother herself.