History of Mother's Day

Giving mothers flowers on Mother's Day is a way of paying tribute.

Giving mothers flowers on Mother's Day is a way of paying tribute.

Established as a day to honor mothers, the origins of Mother’s Day date back to ancient Greece. Throughout American history, several women have contributed to the holiday we celebrate today. Other countries around the world now celebrate Mother’s Day as well -- some at different times of the yea, but many on the second Sunday in May. It is customary in the U.S. to give mothers flowers and other gifts on Mother’s Day as a way of paying them tribute.

Early History

The history of Mother’s Day dates back to when the ancient Greeks held festivals in the spring in honor of Rhea, the mother of the gods. Later, in the 1600s, Christians in England set aside a day to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Eventually, the church reserved a day to honor all mothers. What came to be known in England as Mothering Sunday was observed on the fourth Sunday of the church Lenten season and became a day for family gatherings. When English colonists settled in America, they no longer celebrated the day.

Julia Ward Howe

Following the Franco-Prussian War, Julia Ward Howe, a pacifist and member of the women’s suffrage movement, set out to establish a special day for mothers. Howe wanted a day to unite women against war in an effort to advocate for world peace. In 1872 and for several years after, this mother’s day of peace was observed on the second Sunday in June. The public eventually lost interest, and celebrating the day as a form of Mother’s Day died out before World War I.

Mother Jarvis

Ann Jarvis, also known as Mother Jarvis, was another female activist who believed in the impact that mothers have on society. Jarvis worked for safer working conditions for mothers and, in 1858, organized Mother’s Work Days to improve sanitation conditions. After the Civil War, Jarvis organized a Mother's Friendship Day for the purpose of reuniting families from both the Union and Confederacy sides that had been divided by war. It was her hope that one day someone would declare a memorial mother’s day. It was her daughter Anna Jarvis who was actually responsible for bringing us what we celebrate as Mother’s Day today.

Mother’s Day Today

After her mother’s death, Anna actively campaigned for a special day to honor mothers. The first Mother’s Day was celebrated on May 10, 1908, at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where her mother had taught Sunday school. A special service was also held in Philadelphia on that same day. The auditorium where the service was held could only seat about a third of the 15,000 people who attended. Anna handed out white carnations on that day, as they had been her mother’s favorite flower. In the following years, Mother’s Day observances spread to churches across the country. Many states proclaimed Mother’s Day an official day for the recognition of mothers before President Woodrow Wilson signed a presidential proclamation. In 1914, the president declared the second Sunday in May as the first national Mother’s Day -- an official holiday honoring mothers.

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