How did Mother’s Day originate? It is celebrated in nearly 100 countries, where did it all start? Is Mothers’ Day another example of commercialised sentimentality? Or is there more?
In the late 19th century, American peace activist, Ann Reeves Jarvis worked hard to support mothers and build peace following the American Civil War. After she died, her daughter Anna Reeves organised a church service to commemorate her life and celebrate mothers. Anna promoted Mother’s Day church services each year for the second Sunday in May, the Sunday closest to the date of her mother’s death. In 1914 Mother’s Day was celebrated officially as an American public holiday. Over time, the celebration was expanded to include women who played mothering roles, such as Grandmothers and Aunts.
From 1920 Mother’s Day was beginning to be observed by Australian churches. In 1924 Sydney woman Janet Heyden collected gifts for hospitalised, isolated elderly mothers who had lost husbands or children during WW1. Over 850 women were given a gift on Australia’s first Mother’s Day. With this success Janet Heyden went on to establish Father’s Day for the second Sunday in June, collecting gifts for isolated men. By 1927 Australian newspapers were running ads selling Mother’s Day gifts, along with wearing a chrysanthemum. Because Mother’s Day became increasingly commercialized with a focus on giving gifts, Anna Jarvis spent the last years of her life trying to abolish the holiday she helped establish.
How fascinating the church had a significant role in establishing Mother’s Day. Also, the celebration had a strong focus on honouring and supporting women who were isolated, or grieving, or suffering. Mothers’ Day has probably become another example of commercialised sentimentality. I wonder if by returning to its roots, we could make something more of it?