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How Mother's Day started

Andres Methodist Church in Grafton, W. Va., where Mother's Day was born
Andres Methodist Church in Grafton, W. Va., where Mother's Day was born

As we get ready to celebrate Mother’s Day, when we pamper our mothers and reflect on how special they are, let’s take a moment to look at how this holiday started.

Honoring mothers is an idea that started in antiquity and had religious connotations. Early civilizations celebrated female deities such as Isis in Egypt and Cybele in ancient Rome. It wasn't until much later that mothers, per se, were honored.

In Europe the custom evolved to designate the fourth Sunday in Lent as a day to honor the church where one was baptized, one’s “Mother Church." In the 1600s, a clerical decree in England broadened the celebration to include mothers. Known as “Mothering Day” it provided a reprieve from the Lenten fasting that was customary at the time.

Mother’s Day in this country did not begin until the 1870s. The originator was Julia Ward Howe, (1819-1910) the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. She had become so distraught over the carnage of the Civil War that she called on mothers to come together and protest what she saw as the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers. Howe’s original idea was to celebrate Mother’s Day on July 4th, however, June 2nd was the original date. In 1873, women’s groups in 18 American cities celebrated the new Mother’s Day. It did not last, Howe herself had paid for many of the celebrations and when she stopped footing the bill, the holiday died out.

A West Virginia women’s group, led by Anna Reeves Jarvis, picked up the fallen standard and held a Mother’s Friendship Day to bring together families and neighbors who had been separated by the Civil War. After Jarvis died, her daughter,Anna M. Jarvis petitioned her mother’s church,Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, to celebrate Mother’s Day. This happened on May 10th, 1908. Another church in Philadelphia also participated in the observance. Andrews Methodist Church still exists and is part of the International Mother’s Day Shrine.

In 1908, Senator Elmer Burkett of Nebraska proposed making Mother’s Day a national holiday. It was defeated but by 1909 it was being celebrated in 46 states. Anna M. Jarvis worked tirelessly to obtain Federal recognition and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson, Columbia’s own, signed a bill declaring the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day!


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