Reflecting on the history of Mother’s Day and the value of motherhood

Reflecting on the history of Mother’s Day and the value of motherhood

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Mother’s Day, as it was established in the U.S., originated from the genuine respect and love that the daughter of Ann Marie Jarvis had developed for her mom.


SAN JOSE, CA, May 8, 2016 – Many Americans honor mothers on the second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day. This popular holiday that started in the early 1900s in the U.S., is celebrated in numerous countries throughout the world on the same day in May. Yet, the very irony of a day to honor mothers, or to express children’s love for their mothers, can lead some individuals to wonder whether this means that moms are not to be appreciated every day of the year. This brings up a more sobering question regarding the very value of motherhood in American culture.

Certainly, one can wonder about the true value of motherhood in American culture, with more than tongue-in-cheek pondering. A more legitimate question that can be asked in America is whether motherhood is truly an honorable position in the twenty first century.  Not too long ago, there was a very vocal and political defense of the activities of Planned Parenthood in selling baby parts in the United States, which truly represents a serious and tangible expression of the valuation that some Americans place on life as well as motherhood.

The advent of “baby boxes” in the State of Indiana, drop off boxes for unwanted babies, has become an excellent way to treat the “mistake” of childbirth. Now Americans have a socially acceptable way of getting rid of the unwanted children besides abortion. They can anonymously dump unwanted children into a drop box, just like dropping off books at the library or discarded clothes in the appropriate donation bin. It can also be compared to dropping off garbage in a dumpster. The concept behind such action is that someone will take the mess/problem away, allowing people to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.

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Such contemporary “solutions” are a reminder that legislators in Virginia passed a law on     May 6, 1782 specifically intended to challenge slave owners to take responsibility for their “property” until their slaves died, rather than try to dump the costs of caring for an old or unproductive freed slave upon the rest of the taxpayers. This law allowed for owners with the right frame of mind to free their slaves on their own accord, under two conditions: either at the sale of their land, or through their will. Upon the sale of land, slaves could go free without the transfer of the deed to the land. It is how George Washington freed his slaves.

It is odd how much the morality of the nation has changed since 1782, and also how it has changed from the days in which the seeds of Mother’s Day were planted during the time of the American Civil War. It is likely that thousands upon thousands of mothers questioned their value as over 620,000 boys and men died as a result of the Civil War. During this war, and afterwards, those who were left to pick up the pieces had to deal with the physical loss of sons and fathers, as well as the deep emotional loss of loved ones. Ending slavery in America came at an incredibly great cost; the price of taking responsibility to do the right thing was quite high.

It was just after this horrible war that many women began to form women’s friendship clubs for the purpose of healing the emotional wounds left open within a devastated nation. Even before the war, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, was one of those active women who organized a number of “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” in her local area of in Taylor County, West Virginia, to combat unsanitary circumstances and poor health conditions that contributed to a high mortality rate among children in the Appalachian area of West Virginia. Mother Jarvis, along with her brother Dr. James Reeves, tried to help local communities reduce the frequency of deadly childhood diseases.

Sadly, Mother Jarvis lost eight of her eleven children before they reached the age of seven       as they died of diseases like diphtheria, measles, and typhoid fever. Her brother, Dr. Reeves, was known for his work to limit the spread of typhoid fever in West Virginia, and he was able  to provide valuable health advice to the members of the “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs. The clubs also helped educate mothers about improving sanitary conditions to cut down the incidence of disease and infant mortality, and raised money to purchase medicine for poorer families. The social action brigades, eventually became known as “Mothers’ Friendship Clubs.”

These social action brigades, also taught mothers the importance of boiling water and demonstrated how to prevent food from spoiling, as well as other antiseptic practices. They also helped to provide nursing care for the sick, and arranged proper medical attention for those who were suffering from tuberculosis.  When the Civil War started, Ann Jarvis’ Mothers’ Friendship Clubs had to adapt, and to alter their efforts to meet the changing and conflicting realities of the war. Mother Jarvis insisted the clubs declare their neutrality, so that they could provide aid to either the Confederate or the Union soldiers.

Within such a dangerous environment, Mother Jarvis gathered four of these clubs together and requested that they pledge to one another that their friendship and goodwill would not become victims of the war that had started to rip apart the nation. She asked the clubs:

“To make a sworn-to agreement between members that friendship and good will should obtain in the clubs for the duration and aftermath of the war. That all efforts to divide the churches and lodges should not only be frowned upon but prevented.”

It was important that the clubs remained neutral, as it enabled them to provide nursing assistance to soldiers from both sides during the divisive and destructive conflict. Through the leadership of Mother Jarvis, the clubs provided food and clothing, and nursed the wounded soldiers from both Union and Confederate forces. They also helped directly when various diseases would break out in the ranks of either military unit.

Mother Jarvis was an exceptional woman who did more than simply survive the death and destruction of the Civil War in West Virginia, and It is estimated that these women’s groups saved many lives.

When the war was over, Ann Jarvis and her community based mother’s groups proved instrumental in promoting the fragile peace between formerly divided friends and neighbors. They served as a healing element within the polarized community and worked as peacemakers as they encouraged families to work out their differences and resentment brought about by the war. By 1868, Jarvis had conceived of a family day picnic which she called “Mother’s Friendship Day” in order to honor mothers, with a deeper goal of reuniting politically divided families. Her ultimate goal was to create a lasting memorial regarding the value of mothers.

Unfortunately, Mother Jarvis passed away on May 9, 1905, just over two years after her husband passed away. At her mother’s gravesite, Anna recalled a prayer that Ann Marie had offered during a lesson on “Mothers in the Bible.” Her mother had taught Sunday school in Grafton, West Virginia for seven years, and when Anna was twelve years old, she remembered that her mom’s concluding prayer (essentially paraphrased) was: “I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life.”

Anna’s brother Claude heard his sister reflecting on their mother and the dream expressed in that prayer, and heard the pledge that Anna Jarvis made that day at the gravesite that: “by the grace of God, you shall have that Mother’s Day.” Anna Jarvis, out of deep respect and genuine love, worked tirelessly after her mother died, to carry on her mother’s work to create a Mother’s Day memorial. Finally, as a result of years of determined work, her efforts achieved ultimate success on May 9, 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day.

Unfortunately, the times have changed, and the value of motherhood today is not looked upon the same way it was by Anna Jarvis. Feminists have distorted the meaning and those who demand that taxpayers provide for contraception or abortion have significantly contorted the value of motherhood in America’s culture. These women’s values and those attitudes of their male counterparts have taken precedent over the values prevalent at the time of Anna Jarvis.

It will be hard to return to a more innocent time, it will be hard to reverse the erosion of deeply ingrained American values. But each person can resist the “political correctness” of the disdain directed toward moms who choose to raise their children, or who choose to take responsibility to home school their kids. American citizens can choose respect over resentment and love over intolerance when it comes to the women who believe in and practice the values centered upon raising respectful and respectable children, or raising their daughters to become like Anna Jarvis, or raising their sons to become like a Dr. James Reeves. Freedom comes with responsibility and respect and love comes to those who demonstrate it on a daily basis.

Mother’s Day, as it was established in the U.S., originated from the genuine respect and love that the daughter of Ann Marie Jarvis had developed for her mom. It is good for all Americans to remember the purpose she had in establishing such a day:

“To revive the dormant filial love and gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth. To be a home-tie for the absent, To obliterate family estrangement…  To make us better children by getting us closer to the hearts of our good mothers…  To brighten the lives of good mothers.   To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought… Mother’s Day is to remind us of our duty before it is too late. This day is intended that we may make new resolutions for a more active thought to our dear mothers. By words, gifts, acts of affection, and in every way possible, give her pleasure, and make her heart glad every day, and constantly keep in memory Mother’s Day.”

Happy Mother’s Day to the genuine Moms!

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