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What does Mother’s Day have to do with the Civil War?

        Culture | Holidays

Modern Mother's Day

Ann Reeves Jarvis was one of several postwar influencers who promoted peace. In 1870, abolitionist Julia Ward Howe also took a stand, notably as author of a well-publicized "Mother's Day Proclamation" urging women to promote peace through political means.

Howe, who had written the Civil War anthem "Battle Hymn of the Republic" years earlier, had become a pacifist after living through the Civil War (where 620,000 soldiers died) and reading accounts of the Franco-Prussian War that followed [source: Kohls]. Howe and other women organized events driven by their pacifist leanings, including Mother's Days for Peace, which were held annually in various locations across the U.S. on June 2 [source: Rosen]. These eventually fell out of favor.

By Jarvis' death in 1905, her daughter Anna was ready to take up the cause. She held a church service on the second Sunday in May, 1908 to honor her mother. Mrs. Jarvis had once said that she hoped there would be one day be a memorial day for mothers, adding, "There are many days for men, but none for mothers" [source: The National Women's History Project].

The custom spread, as Anna publicized it through letters to newspapers and politicians. She lobbied enthusiastically to institute a national holiday that would personalize the mothers' movement by encouraging sons and daughters to honor their own mothers. In 1914, then-U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially named the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day [source: Pruitt].

Almost as soon as the proclamation ink dried, merchants began advertising candies, flowers and greeting cards to commemorate the day. This disturbed Anna, who believed it was being corrupted from her intention of an intimate celebration of one's own mother.

In the years that followed, she tried to reverse the commercialization of Mother's Day, spending her sizable inheritance, along with her energy, on boycotts and lawsuits against groups that violated the spirit of the day. In 1923, she crashed a confectioners' convention. In 1925, she protested the American War Mothers convention, which used Mother's Day as a fundraising event by selling carnations. She was arrested for disturbing the peace [source: Handwerk].

Her efforts, though nearly impossible to ignore, went largely unanswered. She died penniless in a sanitarium in 1948, having no children of her own. Mother's Day continued to gain momentum. Today, it's an international holiday celebrated in 152 countries [source: The Library of Congress].


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