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LATEST FEATURE____________________________________

A Look Back at Mother's Day
by Bob Brooke

 

"When I was knee high to a duck, you paddled me without much luck! And when you thought I had the chills, You stuffed me down with oils and pills! In spite of which, my Mother dear Ė I love you better every year." Ė 1920s Hallmark Mother's Day card

Leave it to Hallmark to sum up the feelings of so many on Motherís Day. But the celebration actually began back in ancient Greece when the Greeks held spring activities in honor of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. The Romans held a similar celebration, the festival of Hilaria, in honor of the mother goddess Cybele, some 250 years before Christ. The celebration, held on the Ides of March (March 15) by making offerings in the temple of Cybele, lasted for three days and included processions, games and masquerades. They became notorious enough that the Roman Emperor banned the followers of Cybele from Rome.

Early Christians celebrated a festival on the fourth Sunday of Lent in honor of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ. The English took that festival one step further and in the 17th-century celebrated Mothering Sunday, also held on the fourth Sunday of Lent. During this time, many of England's poor worked as servants and lived in the houses of their wealthy employers. On Mothering Sunday, the wealthy gave their servants the day off and encouraged them to return home and spend the day with their mothers. This was a time when the faithful would return to their ďmother churchĒóthe main church in the vicinity of their homeófor a special service. Over time the Mothering Sunday tradition evolved into a more secular holiday, and children would present their mothers with flowers and a special fruit cake or fruit-filled pastry called a simnel.

Julia Ward Howe, a writer and poet who wrote the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, first suggested the concept of Motherís Day in America. Haunted by her experiences of the Civil War, Howe took on the cause of peace. Howe suggested that June 2 be annually celebrated as Mothers Day and should be dedicated to peace. She wrote a passionate appeal to women and urged them to rise against war in her famous Mothers Day Proclamation, written in Boston in 1870. She also initiated a Motherís Peace Day observance on the second Sunday in June in Boston and continued that for several years. Howe tirelessly championed the cause of an official celebration of Mothers Day. Despite her best efforts, the idea never caught on during her lifetime.

A young Appalachian homemaker named Anna Jarvis, who had attempted to improve sanitation during the Civil War through what she called Motherís Day Work Clubs, influenced Howe. Though Jarvis never married and wasnít a mother, she became known as the Mother of Motherís Day. She got the inspiration of celebrating Mothers Day from her own mother, Mrs. Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis, in her childhood. An activist and social worker, Jarvis used to express her desire that someday someone must honor all mothers, living and dead, and pay tribute to the contributions made by them.

When her mother died in 1905, Anna Jarvisí daughter, Ann, resolved to fulfill her motherís desire of having a mothers day. To begin with, Ann sent carnations, her motherís favorite flower, to St. Andrewís Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where her mother taught Sunday school, for a church service on the second Sunday of May in 1907. She felt the carnations symbolized a motherís pure love.

In 1908, the US Congress rejected a proposal to make Mother's Day an official holiday. Two years later, Ann Jarvis, along with her supporters, wrote letters to people in positions of power, lobbying for the official declaration of a Motherís Day holiday. Her efforts paid off. By 1911, nearly every state celebrated Mother's Day. Some of them officially recognized Mother's Day as a local holiday, the first being West Virginia, Jarvis' home state. On May 8, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.

Although Ann Jarvis was successful in founding Mother's Day, she became resentful of the commercialization of the holiday. By the early 1920s, Hallmark Cards and other companies had started selling Motherís Day cards. Jarvis believed that the companies had misinterpreted and exploited the idea of Motherís Day, and that the emphasis of the holiday was on sentiment, not profit. As a result, she organized boycotts of Motherís Day, and threatened to issue lawsuits against the companies involved. She argued that people should appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts and cards. Jarvis protested at a candy makers' convention in Philadelphia in 1923, and at a meeting of American War Mothers in 1925. By this time, carnations had become associated with Mother's Day, and the selling of carnations by the American War Mothers to raise money angered Jarvis, who was arrested for disturbing the peace. She spent the latter part of her life trying to remove the holiday she created from the calendar.

By the 1920s, major greeting card publishers like Hallmark, Carlton and American Greetings were producing Mother's Day cards by the thousands. However, an illustration of a stylish Art Deco mother smoking a cigarette may have been acceptable in the 1920s, but it certainly wouldnít be appropriate today.



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BACK IN TIME
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CARING FOR YOUR COLLECTIONS
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