History and Story Behind Mother's Day Part 1

About the origins of Mother's Day in the United States, history and information about the holiday.

The Story behind Mother's Day

Date--2nd Sunday in May. Origin--The beginnings of this holiday may have been in the ancient spring festival known as Hilaria, dedicated to the mother goddess Cybele.

In medieval England there was a Mothering Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Lent, when children who had been away from home as apprentices returned to see their mothers, usually bringing the gift of a simnel or mothering cake, a fruit cake with almond paste, meant to be eaten on Mid-Lent Sunday.

The evolution of Mother's Day, as it exists today, began in the U.S. in 1890 when Miss Mary T. Sasseen, of Kentucky, suggested to a gathering of teachers that annual homage be paid to mothers every April 20, her own mother's birthday. Nothing came of the suggestion. In 1892, Robert K. Cummins, head of the Sunday school of the Universalist Church of Our Father in Baltimore, Md., proposed an annual memorial service on the Sunday closest to May 22, the date on which Mrs. Emily C. Pullman, mother of the church's pastor as well as mother of the inventor of the Pullman sleeping car, had died. This service was undertaken, although later the annual service was dedicated not merely to Mrs. Pullman but to all mothers worldwide. While this service was repeated for many years, it did not catch on nationally. In 1902, Fred E. Hering, of Indiana, appealed to the Fraternal Order of Eagles to support a national observance dedicated to mothers. This proposal, too, failed to excite interest.

Finally, the crusade for such a holiday achieved fulfillment through the tireless crusade of one individual. The actual creator of the modern Mother's Day observance was a 41-year-old Philadelphia woman who, ironically, had never been a mother herself. She was Anna M. Jarvis (1864-1948), who remained a spinster throughout her 84 years. Miss Jarvis was a graduate of the Female Seminary, Wheeling, W. Va. Although briefly a teacher in Grafton, W. Va., Miss Jarvis's real career was acting as caretaker to her mother, a very religious woman who taught Sunday school classes in a Methodist church for 2 decades. Miss Jarvis's total devotion to her mother--to the exclusion of marriage for herself or securing her own independence--might have offered a fascinating case-study to a Freudian psychoanalyst. When Mrs. Jarvis finally died in Philadelphia, May 9, 1905, daughter Anna Jarvis was bereft. For 2 to 3 years Miss Jarvis brooded over her loss, and about how neglectful and thoughtless most grown children were of their mothers. Miss Jarvis decided to do something about it. She conceived the idea of an international Mother's Day, a day in which all offspring paid homage to their maternal parent. With that idea, Anna Jarvis had her cause and her obsession.

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