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Mother's Day

Discover the unusually dark history behind this joyous holiday.

Mother's Day, a day to celebrate the person who brought us into existence, nurtured us, and taught us how to navigate life from a young age, is observed nationally but Mother's Day didn’t receive that recognition easily. Developed from a mix of unusual circumstances, celebrations, people, and events throughout history that have shaped the way we celebrate to this day. Dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, we can see the celebration of motherhood and mother figures. There are a few important people throughout history who have contributed to, and even spent their entire life fighting for the recognition of mothers and Mother's Day.

During the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, annual spring festivals were held in honor of the mythological maternal goddess Rhea, the daughter of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus. Also celebrated and strongly associated to Rhea is Cybele, which is seen as a mystery goddess who is seen as more of a wild hearted figure with sexual dances, music, and eccentric adornments. Ancient Romans also celebrated "Magna Mater" Latin for Great Mother, their version of Cybele. The Romans developed a particular form of cult after an oracle recommended the conscription of Cybele as a key religious component in Rome's wars against Carthage. The meaning and morality of her cults and priesthoods were disputed in both Greek and Roman literature, while her celebrations were notorious enough that Magna Mater’s followers were banished from Rome. Although these celebrations aren't held the exact same to this day, you can find bits and pieces of their traditions within some of our own. Before Mother's Day, some religions celebrated holidays that focus on Mothers or Mothering traits. Mothering Sunday is a Catholic and Christian celebration held on the fourth Sunday of lent every year, exactly three weeks before Easter. The holiday was traditionally observed by returning to your "mothering church" instead of celebrating your actual "mother". A mother church is usually the church you were baptized in, a local parish church, or the nearest cathedral. In latter day it became one of the only days given off to domestic servants to return to their mother church and visit with family.

Ann Jarvis, also known as "Mother Jarvis" organized several Mother's Day work clubs in the 1850's in West Virginia. The names of the clubs were later changed to "Mothers Friendship Days". Ann wanted to combat the poor health and sanitary conditions that contributed to a high birth and child mortality rate that was present in many areas. After losing eight children all under the age of seven out of twelve born children, she wanted to advocate the importance of health for mothers and children. There were multiple groups of women who met regularly to support her cause and raise awareness. These "brigades" of women provided medicine for the poor, nursing care for the sick, and arranged proper treatment for those ill with tuberculosis. During the beginning of the Civil War, Jarvis asked four of her clubs to join together and pledge that they would uphold friendship and goodwill regardless of conflict between states. Members of these clubs nursed soldiers from both sides in an act of compassion, courage, and friendship. The clubs ended up saving many lives of soldiers from both sides of the war. After the Civil War, Jarvis worked as a peacemaker, encouraging families to set aside differences created by the war. In 1868 Ann organized "Mother's Friendship Day".

After Ann's death in 1905 her daughter Anna Jarvis decided to take over the role of leading activism for mothers in order to honor her mom. In 1908 Anna persuaded her church in West Virginia to celebrate Mother's Day on the anniversary of her mother's death, the second Sunday of May. That same year (1908) Philadelphia also celebrated Mother's Day. Anna and her supporters wrote tirelessly to politicians, business people, and ministers in their quest to establish a national Mother's Day. By 1911 Mother's Day was celebrated in almost every state. In 1914 president Woodrow Wilson made Mother's Day a national holiday that would be celebrated the second Sunday of May. It was Anna who began the custom of wearing a carnation on Mother's Day. White was a symbol for a deceased mother, colored for living. It was intended to be a simple, inexpensive symbol of love, respect, and acknowledgement. The story of Anna Jarvis became a hollow victory when she saw Mother's Day become commercialized. Disappointed she filed a lawsuit in 1923 to stop a Mother's Day festival that would profit from selling flowers, cards, etc. Anna was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a war mothers' convention where women were selling carnations to raise money. Anna ended up spending her life's earnings on attempting to eradicate Mother's Day as a national holiday after spending her life fighting for Mother's Day recognition. Years later in a care home Anna voiced to reporters that she had regretted ever starting Mother's Day. And yet, even though she had never had children herself, she was the mother of Mother's Day, and each Mother's Day her room would be filled with thousands of letters and cards from all over the world. One of them she prized highly and hung on her wall. It read: "I am six years old and I love my mother very much. I am sending you this because you started Mother's Day." Carefully sewn to this letter from a little boy was a $1 bill. Anna Jarvis died in 1948 at the age of 84.

Born March 5, 1860 and raised in Henderson Kentucky, Mary Towles Sasseen is known for laying the foundation for a Mother's Day ironically before dying in 1906 during childbirth. Her efforts to found a day in honor of mothers started early in her career. Within the first couple of years of teaching, she’d already organized a program in her school to celebrate motherhood. Held on April 20, her own mother’s birthday, she wrote poems and stories that her students recited and invited her students’ mothers to be present. Along with celebrating in her school she created a campaign to have Mother's Day acknowledged in all public schools. Sasseen felt that her "pamphlet was sent forth in the hope of awakening on the part of the child, a deeper appreciation of her, who is the central figure of the home. That it may strengthen the family bonds, making them more beautiful and tender, that it may breathe a hope of that future, where language is music, thought is light, and love is law." Sasseen traveled extensively and addressed various educational meetings over the country in her effort to have Mother's Day observed in the schools. In 1894 or shortly thereafter, she succeeded in having it celebrated throughout the Public Schools of Springfield, Ohio. Throughout her local community Mary is celebrated for being the originator of the idea for Mother's Day.

Regardless of Anna Jarvis being considered the prominent force behind Mother's Day being a nationally acknowledged holiday I think we can all agree that there are some amazing women who worked tirelessly to bring it all together. We can also thank Mothers around the world who make an impact everyday by providing nurturing, compassion, strength and education to children and their community. Whether you’re a Mother or you're celebrating one close to you, we at Fortisvex wish you a happy Mother's Day!

Citations:

“The History of Mother's Day.” The Cambridge Room, 13 May 2013, www.thecambridgeroom.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the....

History of Mother's Daywww.legacyproject.org/guides/mdhistory.html.

Jr, Jim Powell. Mary Towles Sasseen Henderson County KY Biography, www.hendersonkyhistory.com/MTSasseenBio.htm.

“Mother's Day History an Alternative View.” TheHolidaySpot - Festivals and Holidays, www.theholidayspot.com/mothersday/viewhistory

“Konstantinos Menzel.” News from Greece, 11 May 2014, www.greece.greekreporter.com/2014/05/10/ancient-g....


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