Mom, A Super Short History of Your Special Day

May 9, 2009
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Mom, after you’ve opened your cards and candy, slipped your carnations into a vase and returned from brunch, give a moment of gratitude to Julia Ward Howe. She fought hard so you could have your own special day.

If Howe’s julia-ward-howename sounds familiar, it’s because she wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1862, which quickly became one of the most popular songs of the Union during the American Civil War. The Unitarian mother of six wasn’t done, however. In 1870, she instigated the first Mother’s Day Peace Proclamation. Her peace proclamation was in protest to the devastation that the nation had experienced during the American Civil War. She wanted mothers everywhere to protest the killing of their sons through war and June 2 was designated as the day to celebrate peace and motherhood.

She funded much of the protest gatherings with this intent, and in 1873, the day was designated as Mother’s Peace Day in 18 northern American states.

When Howe stopped funding the celebrated events, most of the peace and motherhood gatherings stopped except in Boston, Mass., where it was continued for some time. It was Anna Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia who picked up the thought with Mother’s Friendship Day so that families and neighbors would reunite after being divided by Union vs. Confederate sides of the war.

Then on May 10, 1908, after much lobbying to the churches, her daughter, Anna M. Jarvis, was successful in having the first Mother’s Day event at St. Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, W. Va., and in a church in Philadelphia, Pa. Jarvis handed out white carnations to all of the mothers in attendance.

On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first national Mother’s Day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war. Ironically, World War I would begin the following month. Casualties from the global conflict, both military and civilian, were about 37 million: 16 million deaths and 21 million wounded.

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