A Brief History of Mother's Day

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By: J. Glenn Hopkins, President/CEO

This month we celebrate Mother’s Day in the U.S., so I thought a brief history of the holiday would be in order.

The origin of Mother’s Day dates back centuries. The ancient Greeks held an annual festival to honor the goddess Rhea, wife of Cronus and mother of many deities of Greek mythology. Ancient Romans held a spring festival in honor of Cybele, a mother goddess. Early Christians held a festival on the fourth Sunday of Lent in honor of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ.

In the U.S., Mother’s Day is a more recent holiday, born of a daughter’s desire to honor the legacy of her mother.

Ann Reeves Jarvis was the mother of eleven children living in West Virginia. She was active in church and civic affairs. Concerned about poor health and sanitary conditions in her community that contributed to the high mortality rate of children, in the 1850s she organized Mothers Day Work Groups at local churches to provide women to care for families with tubercular mothers, inspect milk for children, and procure medicine for the indigent. The work groups also tended to wounded Union and Confederate soldiers returning from the Civil War. After the war ended, Jarvis and other women organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and other events as pacifist activities in the hope of uniting former Civil War foes. 

In 1905, Ann Reeves Jarvis died. Three years later, on May 10, 1908, through the efforts of Jarvis' daughter, Anna Marie, families gathered at events held at Ann Reeves Jarvis’ hometown church in Graton, West Virginia. These events spread to other cities and states until 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in the U.S.

These early celebrations in the U.S. were a time when families gathered at their homes with their mothers.  The purposeful designation of "Mother’s" rather than the plural "Mothers’" Day was intended to stress that the holiday is more about honoring your own mother than the collective mom. 

Much to the chagrin of Anna Jarvis, this holiday, envisioned as an intimate family affair, soon turned into a commercial gold mine.  Rather than spending time at home with mom, Mother’s Day became a time for buying gifts, giving cards, and dining out.

Today, in the U.S. alone, Mother’s Day generates over $18 billion in annual consumer spending, with more than 30 percent of individuals giving their mothers gifts of jewelry; it’s the most popular holiday for dining out, with an estimated 75 million people eating at restaurants; and, after Christmas and Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day is number three among holidays for giving greeting cards.

How ever you and your family celebrate Mother’s Day, all of us here at Hopkins House wish you and your mother a day filled with much joy and love.

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* Sources: National Geographic Magazine, National Women’s History Project, Taylor County WVGenWeb, and Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India.

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