ACPL Genealogy Center
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Happy Mother’s Day! For many children, this is the day you call, send a card or take your mother a gift. If you are a mother, this is the day your small children bring flowers from your garden and your adult children brave every other family in the country to take you out to eat. But Mother’s Day actually has an interesting history with roots in the Civil War.
Ann Reeves was born in Virginia in 1832. She married Granville Jarvis in 1850 and moved to what is now West Virginia. Over the next seventeen years, the couple had about a dozen children, although, due to childhood diseases, only four lived to adulthood. In 1858, Ann established Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in towns in her area to promote sanitation and combat disease. During the Civil War, Ann encouraged the Clubs to maintain neutrality, providing aid to both armies. After the war, the Clubs promoted a renewal of friendship between former enemies.
Elsewhere in the country, temperance groups were also promoting a day to honor mothers who should band together to fight the demon liquor, but they had no connections specifically to Ann’s activities. In her later years, Ann continued her activities promoting health and sanitary conditions, as well as being active in other social causes to educate children and improve their lives. As a widow, she moved to Philadelphia to be near her children, and died there on May 8,1905.
Two years later, Ann’s daughter Anna Jarvis, organized a private memorial service for her mother, and in 1908, two public services were held. One was in the Andrews Methodist Church, where Ann taught Sunday School for many years, and the other, attracting 15,000 attendees, was held in Philadelphia’s Wanamaker Store Auditorium.
In the following years, Anna continued to promote a day to recognize mothers and their contribution to civilization, and to promote peace by honoring women who had lost or were at risk of losing sons in military conflicts. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson established the second Sunday in May as an official day of observance in honor of women whose sons had perished in war.
One early tradition was the giving and wearing of flowers by mothers: red if the wearer’s mother was still alive, white if the wearer’s mother was deceased. In recent years, pink flowers were worn by pregnant women.
Mother’s Day is celebrated all over the world, but not always on the second Sunday of May. It’s March 8 in many Eastern European countries, and the fourth Sunday in Lent in Great Britain and Ireland. It’s celebrated on the vernal equinox (March 21) in many Arabian countries, and the end of May or early June in France, the third Sunday of October in Argentina, the last Sunday of November in Russia, and, like the US, the second Sunday of May in Australia.
My own mother is gone now, although she received from me the requisite white corsage for many years. Now, I take the second Sunday of May to remember her, my grandmothers, my great-grandmothers and all of the wonderful women on my family tree. You know, half of my ancestors are mothers!