Forgotten Purpose of Mother’s Day

by | May 4, 2021 | Blog | 0 comments

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Unrealized Opportunity for Women

drawing of two gift boxes and flowers for mother's day, a day for women's activism

Isn’t there something more than presents for Mother’s Day?

Mother’s Day is an unrealized opportunity for women everywhere. Mother’s Day was initially an all-encompassing women’s movement. The idea formed as a way for women to gather, exchange information, and help each other. It was a way that women could positively impact their community and find their purpose. Mother’s day was for activist women.

Calling it Mother’s Day, I think, was a way for women to gather under the radar of misogyny. From the patriarchal perspective, what could happen when mothers gather to discuss mother issues? After all, society wants women to believe that the most significant accomplishment we contribute to the world is to have babies – to further the human race. It is quite a contribution. Truly. But it isn’t the only one.

Mother’s Day is another example of minimizing or covering over the significant contributions that women have made down to the ability to procreate. I guess it is the one thing that men can’t do, so I get that it seems like a great thing to further the human race. And it is. But there are many ways that women have furthered the human race that does not include procreation.

The First Mother’s Day

The idea of mother’s day was envisioned differently by the three women who laid the foundation for national recognition of activist women. I think it should have been called Women’s Day, not Mother’s Day. Mother’s day was able to gain the support of the men in power at the time. I don’t think a women’s day would have gained the support.

And so the founding women, I think, hid their activism beneath the umbrella of motherhood. The first woman, Ann Reeves Jarvis, was a lifelong activist. In the mid-1800’s she organized “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs.” These clubs provided opportunities for women to come together and address public health concerns. Education was a critical method of imparting knowledge to the next generation.1

But she didn’t stop there. During the Civil War, Ann Jarvis organized women’s brigades and encouraged women to help support no matter what side their husbands fought on. After the war, she proposed a Mothers’ Friendship Day to promote peace between former Union and Confederate families.2

“I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life,” Ann Jarvis once said. “She is entitled to it.” 2  

Mother’s Day Peace

Julia Ward Howe was a suffragette, prolific writer, activist, and pacifist, to name a few of her accomplishments. I first heard her name in elementary school. But not for any of the things I just outlined. She authored the civil war anthem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” in 1862. 3

However, it was the fame that came with writing that civil war anthem propelled her into public life. And because of her newfound fame, she was able to garner attention for causes like women’s rights and ceasing war. It was the latter that moved her to write the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870. It was an appeal to mothers to spare their sons from war.4

“By 1868, Julia’s husband no longer opposed her involvement in public life, so Julia decided to become active in reform.” 3

So lovely of her husband to “support” her.

On June 2, 1872, Howe held the first Mother’s Day.4 But it wasn’t the first, let us not forget Ann Reeves Jarvis and her idea of Mother’s Day Work Clubs. Howe’s focus was on social justice and ceasing the senseless loss of life during wartime. It was a different message, but the underlying belief was to make the world a better place.  

Celebrating Mother Activist

The third woman, Anna M. Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, desired to memorialize her mother’s life. Anna wanted to celebrate her mom, not just for being her mom, but for all of the things she did for communities. In 1908, three years after her mom passed, she organized the first observance of Mother’s Day.2

But it wasn’t the first because Howe had held her decade-long pro-peace observances by this time. But it was Ms. Jarvis’ Mother’s Day that would gain the attention of Congress. And eventually end up on President Woodrow Wilson’s desk to sign the bill declaring the second Sunday in May as a national day of observance, Mother’s Day.

Diluting Mother’s Day

In 1914, Woodrow Wilson dedicated Mother’s Day as a legal holiday to “the best mother in the world, your mother.” 2 And with that speech, President Wilson glossed over what the real meaning of what Mother’s Day was supposed to be – honoring women and the contributions they made to our world.

And yes, some of those women were mothers, but not all of them.  The woman behind the push to have Mother’s Day was not a mother. But she was an activist, something that she learned from her mother.

But hey, women, and the great things that we have accomplished, have been erased throughout history. Our contributions whittled down to highlight motherhood as the essential thing that women can do for the world at large. So, get out there and buy some flowers and some gifts, and lift your mimosa to cheers your mom. Or not.

Opportunity Found

Mother’s Day is a diluted version of what it should be. That did not happen overnight. It has taken time to get to where most of us had no idea what Mother’s Day was supposed to mean. Anna Jarvis was not happy with what Mother’s Day had come to represent within her lifetime.  

My suggestion to the women of the world – reclaim Mother’s Day. Bring the origins of the day back to the forefront of why we gather – to change the world.  

drawing of two women representing mother's day as a women's movement to change the world

Sources Cited

  1. Ann Jarvis. (April 22, 2021).
  2. Catherine Boeckmann and Heidi Stonehill. (April 30, 2020). The History of Mother’s Day in the United States.
  3. Julia Ward Howe. (April 30, 2021).
  4. Mother’s Day: A Campaign for Peace with Justice. (n.d.). Zinn Education Project.,war%20as%20an%20acceptable%20way


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