NEW YORK — It turns out, the tradition of celebrating mothers has a strong history, launched by activist women of the Christian faith.
The day was initially a tradition in the UK and Europe where believers would travel to their “mother church” or the church they grew up attending to go to a special service.
Prior to it becoming an official holiday, before civil war, the day was dedicated to activist women in the church organizing acts of charity in “work clubs” and teaching local women how to properly care for children.
In the 1870’s suffragettes wanted to permanently establish a holiday connected to the work club efforts — looking to June 2 — calling for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to promote world peace.
The day became an established and official American holiday in the early 1900s.
Anna Jarvis was a social activist, Christian and an ardent supporter of the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs, which were started by her mother and inspired by the work clubs of the civil war era. After the death of her mother in 1908, Jarvis organized the first Mothers Day celebration at a Methodist church in West Virginia, as a way to recognize the sacrifices of mothers everywhere.
Cities across the US eventually began to adopt the tradition and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson named the second Sunday in May a national holiday.
The day began to loose it’s original meaning due to the commercialization by various companies looking to profit from the now national holiday, something that Jarvis denounced. In 1923 she wrote an article in the New York Times, saying she intended the day to recognize mothers and to gather mothers together into political action for change and peace and not for the personal financial gain of florists, card-makers and chocolatiers.
Speaking against profiteering on Mother’s Day was a new mission that Jarvis would spend her entire life fighting. She died in 1948 at the age of 84.