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The History of Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day, which has its origins in Grafton, West Virginia in 1858. There, Anna Reeves Jarvis organized a number of Mothers’ Work Day Clubs to improve health and sanitary issues in the towns of Webster, Grafton, Fetterman, Pruntytown, and Philippi. The clubs held fund-raisers to buy medicine for those who couldn’t afford it, helped families whose mothers suffered from tuberculosis, and inspected bottled milk and food for unsanitary practices. During the Civil War, the clubs provided medical care for soldiers on both sides of the war. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, who had written the song, Battle Hymn of the Republic, an abolitionist hymn, published her thoughts on Mothers Day.

Mother’s Day Proclamation

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.”

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of

Julia Ward Howe

Mother’s Day of Peace was celebrated in a small number of cities, including Boston, in the United States and in London and Geneva every year on June 2. The last one was held in 1912. Julia Ward Howe underwrote some of the cost of these celebrations, but others were independently organized.

Anna Reeves Jarvis died on May 9, 1905 and her daughter, Anna Jarvis, embarked on a campaign to honor her mother by establishing a day in her memory. Today, Anna Reeves Jarvis and the causes she fought for have largely been forgotten, buried in the commercialism of the holiday. If you follow the links in this post, however, you will discover another meaning of Mother’s Day, a meaning that very few people are aware of.

2 Comments on “The History of Mother’s Day”

  1. #1 Beth
    on May 9th, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Thanks for that, Jeff. So interesting to know that Mother’s Day had its origin in such noble causes. That’s a very powerful statement by Julia Ward Howe.

  2. #2 Debi Kelly Van Cleave
    on May 12th, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    What would happen if more mothers were in politics?

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