MNA Feature Desk: Mother’s Day is a time for flowers, fancy brunches, and thanking your mom for putting up with your crap for all these years. But once upon a time the holiday was a more somber affair—a way for women to mourn fallen soldiers and pursue peace.
The true origin dates back to the years leading up to the U.S. Civil War, when a woman named Ann Reeves Jarvis helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” in West Virginia. Their goal was to lower infant mortality rates by teaching local women how to properly care for their children, improve sanitary conditions, and fight disease.
When war finally broke out in 1861, the groups began tending the wounds of soldiers from both sides. By 1868, after the Civil War was over, Jarvis transformed the organization into a peace-focused movement called “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” which involved bringing former Union and Confederate soldiers together to reconcile. Jarvis, often called “Mother Jarvis,” wrote:
”Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?”
Around the same time, other women around the country organized their own early Mother’s Days. Abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870, which called on all mothers to unite and promote world peace. She later campaigned for a holiday called “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2. And Juliet Calhoun Blakely, a temperance activist from Michigan, inspired a local Mother’s Day to be celebrated there in the 1870s.
But it wasn’t until the early 1900s that Mother’s Day was nationally recognized. Anna Jarvis, the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, pushed for the holiday after her mother died in 1905, wanting a holiday that honors all of the sacrifices mothers make for their children. In 1908, Jarvis found financial backing to host an official Mother’s Day celebration at a church in West Virginia. At the same time, a celebration happened at a retail store in Philadelphia that belonged to Jarvis’ financial backer.
It was a sensation, so Jarvis decided to make it her goal to get the holiday added to the national calendar. By 1912, Jarvis quit her job and started the Mother’s Day International Association, which formed partnerships with local businesses and ran letter-writing campaigns to government officials. It worked. Towns and churches in several states adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and by 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made it an official holiday in 1914.