Mothers’ Day history

What words work on Mothers’ Day, a Sunday observance (second Sunday in May) many worship leaders find challenging?

As we prepare to celebrate Mothers’ Day, our horizons broaden as we become familiar with the history of the day.  (Click here to read the full biography of Julia Ward Howe from which this text is taken.)

Day of Peace Activism:

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” distressed by her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the two most important causes of the world (the other being equality in its many forms) and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War, she called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts. She issued a Declaration, hoping to gather together women in a congress of action.

She failed in her attempt to get formal recognition of a Mother’s Day for Peace.

Mothers’ Work Days to improve sanitation

Julia Ward Howe’s idea was influenced by Anna Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker who had attempted starting in 1858 to improve sanitation through what she called Mothers’ Work Days. She organized women throughout the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors.

Memorial day for women 

Anna Jarvis’ daughter, also named Anna Jarvis, would of course have known of her mother’s work, and the work of Julia Ward Howe. Much later, when her mother died, this second Anna Jarvis started her own crusade to found a memorial day for women. The first such Mother’s Day was celebrated in West Virginia (a state in the USA) in 1907 in the church where the elder Anna Jarvis had taught Sunday School. And from there the custom caught on — spreading eventually to 45 USA states. Finally, in 1914 the President of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson, declared the first national Mothers’ Day.