‘M is for … ‘ more to know about Mothers Day

Probably most of us grew up learning the song below as part of our general observance of Mother’s Day. But I thought that many of you might be like me, having only a limited knowledge about the origins of that special holiday, so I forsook my usual subject matter to share what I could learn from ancient times of goddesses to present-day commercialism. When I noticed that I had written 2,000 words and still was not through, I realized that my subject had to be narrowed down for our purposes here. It seemed that the natural way of limiting my scope was to concentrate on just observances in the U.S. If you are a history buff and/or want to investigate further, I would recommend one web site as being pretty comprehensive: www.mothersdaycentral.com.
The lineage of Mother’s Day in the U.S. has two distinct lines, each one revolving around one woman in particular. The earlier of the two efforts contains an interesting irony. Julia Ward Howe had written a song that was a call to arms during the beginning of the Civil War. The song? “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was published in 1862 as a poem in The Atlantic Monthly and was designed to be sung to the tune of “John Brown’s Body,” a very popular song among the soldiers.
But that was before she had seen the bloody carnage that is war. She was particularly bothered by the fact that mothers on one side were sending their sons to kill the sons of other mothers. It didn’t make sense. It was not all right. And so she took pen in hand and 10 years later (1870 or 1872, depending on whose history you read) wrote a “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” In it, mothers were exhorted to unite in the name of peace and motherhood, regardless of ethnic or national backgrounds, in order to prevent their sons from ever having to participate in the horrifying deaths such as those that marked the Civil War battles. Howe was determined that there should be a mothers-united-in-peace day, and lobbied hard for it. Her hope was to celebrate the day on July 4, signifying that our national purpose was a peaceful one. However, she did not prevail, and June 2 was selected. Although 18 towns celebrated Howe’s plea with a Mother’s Day celebration, which Howe funded, when the funding dried up, so did the celebrating.
The version of what we know as Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908. Following the history of this more successful journey on behalf of a Mother’s Day can be a little confusing, because Anna’s mother’s name was Ann, and historical accounts sometimes confused the two or named them both exactly alike. It was during the Civil War that Anna’s mother, Ann Jarvis, cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the conflict, grey and blue. She saw the humanity present in each person and wanted to help others to see from her point of view, that people are people, regardless of affiliations. Thinking that mothers would be especially open to the idea of crossing the grey and blue lines in friendship, she organized a Mother’s Friendship Day which had some modest success. However, in 1905 Ann died, leaving a distraught Anna to carry on her work.
Anna seemed to have lost her emotional bearings, and spent her days with the sympathy cards and letters that she read over and over, underlining and listing all the words and phrases that praised and complimented her mother. Eventually, Jarvis found an outlet for her grief by working to memorialize her mother in creating a day that would honor all mothers. She began in her local church where her mother had taught Sunday school in West Virginia, and at Wanamaker’s Department store’s auditorium in Philadelphia. Thus the first Mother’s Day was celebrated in 1908. Jarvis did not attend either location’s event, but did send 500 white carnations, Ann’s favorite flower, to be worn that day, and flowers became a tradition.
Commercial interests, particularly the floral industry, helped finance Jarvis’ fierce campaign to have Mother’s Day officially recognized. Her efforts prevailed in 1914 when it became a national holiday. However, when she saw commercialism gradually overwhelming the original intent of the holiday, she used her considerable energies to have the now-corrupted holiday rescinded. By this time, the holiday had gained so much popularity and commercial advantage that it was here to stay. Sadly, Anna’s health and spirit were broken and she was penniless, reduced to living in a state-sponsored facility for indigents since all her funds had gone into the battle against commercialism.
Today, many people choose to recognize Mother’s Day following Howe’s call to work for peace. Some follow the original intent for the name, by using the singular possessive “mother’s” in order to recognize each and every mother. Others use the plural as an inclusive form. In some families, it is agreed to forego all commercialism that surrounds the day. Regardless of choice, it is a holiday that is almost 100 years old and obviously here to stay.

Mother:(A word that means the world to me)

M Is for the Many things she gave me,
O Means only that she’s growing Old.
T Is for the Tears she shed to save me,
H Is for her Heart of purest gold.
E Is for her Eyes with love light shining,
R Means Right and Right she’ll always be.
Put them all together, They spell MOTHER,
A word that means the world to me.
(Written by Howard Johnson and Theodore Morse and sung in 1915 by Eddy Arnold)