There are many dates on the calander that you best not forgot – mother’s day is one of them.
In the United States and Canada, Mother’s Day 2017 is being celebrated on Sunday May 14.
I was surprised when I discovered the meaning of Mother’s Day, at least the true intention behind it. Like so many other things, it has become manipulated and commercialized — another vehicle for profit.
Mother’s Day in North America was created by Anna Jarvis. She was born in 1864 in Virginia, to Ann Jarvis the 10th of 13 children. Many of Ann’s children died in childhood, and she became active in the fight against childhood diseases and unsanitary conditions. She developed Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to assist women who were too sick to take care of their children and became a leader in the growing public health movement in the United States.
The Civil War broke out in 1861, and Ann was conflicted when her state broke into two parts and West Virginia was created. Jarvis was a pacifist and decreed the Mothers’ Day Clubs would remain neutral and continue their work during the war. This included ministering to the health needs of soldiers from both sides.
After the war ended, Ann realized the anger and hatred from the war remained, and in spite of threats and condemnation, she called upon the clubs to provide a mothers’ friendship day where mothers on both sides could come together with their sons in an effort to heal the deep divisions. She continued her activism throughout her life.
After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis wanted to honour her courage and commitment.
By 1908, she had organized two seminal events in this campaign. At one in Grafton, W.Va., in the church where her mother had taught Sunday school, Anna sent 500 white carnations to be handed out during the ceremony. Those carnations became a symbol of Mother’s Day. On the same day in Philadelphia, she spoke at an event for more than 15,000 people.
Anna began letter-writing and lobbying to have Mother’s Day recognized, and by 1914, the U.S. officially declared the second Sunday in May Mother’s Day, the time of her mother’s death. Almost immediately, the floral, greeting-card and candy industries began a concerted effort to use the day to make profits.
To Anna, this was a huge affront.
“A pretty card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world” she proclaimed. “And candy; you give a box to Mother and then eat most of it yourself.”
As the exploitation of Mother’s Day continued, Anna turned her attention to rescind what she had created. Her sense of injustice involved her in lawsuits and political events and included being arrested for crashing a convention of candy-makers, where she was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. She spent the rest of her life and all of her considerable inheritance fighting the commercialization of Mother’s Day and died bitter and penniless in 1949.
What I find so annoying about this history is why I never knew it. My history lessons were about wars and treaties (excluding the ones with indigenous people) and were not about real people trying to accomplish something. I heard nothing about the association of Mother’s Day with the peace movement. In fact, I don’t think I even heard about the peace movement. Certainly, I never heard about the woman who created Mother’s Day.
Quite a few people decry the commercialization of Christmas, wanting it to be a religious event, while others argue Christmas was really stolen from the pagans. But I haven’t heard anyone trying to get rid of the capitalist exploitation of Mother’s Day. Maybe this year, instead of buying into that agenda, we can do what Anna wanted: write a letter to our mothers and scrap the card altogether (though I hesitate to suggest dumping the flowers).