What Does Mother's Day Have to Do With the Civil War?

Mother's Day as a Political Movement

This photograph shows Ann Reeves Jarvis, mother of Anna Jarvis, and inspiration for Mother's Day.
This photograph shows Ann Reeves Jarvis, mother of Anna Jarvis, and inspiration for Mother's Day.
© Bettmann/CORBIS

By the 1860s, the Mothers' Day Work Clubs launched by Ann Reeves Jarvis had become successful, but now she faced another complication. The area near her West Virginia home was a pivotal stop on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad during the Civil War [source: West Virginia Division of Culture and History]. Caught in a storm of rising tensions deep in this crossroads of the Civil War, Jarvis took a stand -- by not taking a stand.

She insisted the Mothers' Day Work Clubs become neutral ports in a sea of political differences. Jarvis and other club members fed and clothed Union and Confederate soldiers; treated their wounds and, just as they'd done with the Appalachian's poorest workers, taught life-saving sanitation methods.

It was a passion that grew out of Jarvis' own tragedies. Years earlier, four of her children had died from contagious diseases such as diphtheria, scarlet fever and whooping cough [source: Tyler-McGraw]. Their deaths would be the first blows of many. Four more of her 12 children would be buried before reaching their 18th birthdays.

Even the end of the Civil War in 1865 did not bring peace. Tensions increased as Union and Confederate soldiers returned from war and found themselves occupying the same space in Grafton, still seething with bitter hostility. Jarvis once again took action. She organized a Mothers' Friendship Day at a local courthouse. Although she publicized the event as a way to honor mothers, its real purpose was to bring together a fractured community by gathering battle-worn soldiers and their families -- whatever side they had been on.

Amid rumors the event would erupt in violence, Jarvis' Mothers' Friendship Day opened with a prayer and a band that played "Should Auld Acquaintances Be Forgot." According to an account by Sen. John D. Rockefeller, "By the time they reached the word 'forgot,' neighbors were weeping and shaking hands." Mothers' Friendship Day became an annual pacifist event [source: The Library of Congress].