In a world where gender notions are being revised, why do we still have separate Mother’s Days and Father’s days to honor our parents? Shouldn’t we just have a Parents Day and get on with our lives? Aren’t these “Special Days” actually just a creation of the florists, as well as the women’s and men’s retailers? Isn’t it just another reason to spend our hard earned cash on someone else?
I don’t think so, and for two reasons. First it has been tried before. During the 1920’s and into the great depression of the 1930’s, a movement arose to eliminate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a single holiday to be called Parents’ Day. Every year on Mother’s Day, pro-Parents’ Day groups rallied in New York City’s Central Park–a public reminder, said Parents’ Day activist and radio performer Robert Spere, “that both parents should be loved and respected together.” However, the Great Depression finally derailed these efforts to combine the holidays. Struggling retailers doubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “Second Christmas” for men, by bombarding the newspapers with advertisements promoting items such as golf clubs, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco. Not to mention the greeting cards industry. An industry still gets the most bang for their buck. After World War II started it was argued that celebrating Father’s Day was a way to honor the American troops while they were away in support of the war effort. By the end of the war it might not have become a federal holiday, but it was a national institution.
For the second reason, I need to get into some of the history of these two days set aside to honor and acknowledge those who brought us into this world, or those who made it their business to sacrifice themselves in order for us to grow, and achieve our own versions of success.
Let’s take Mother’s Day first. The earliest versions go all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, then on to the Greeks and Romans. England got into the act in the 17th century, when a decree from the Church broadened the celebration from one focused on the the Virgin Mary, to now include real Mothers. The occasion was (and still is) referred to as Mothering Day in the United Kingdom.
Mothering Day became a very special holiday for the working classes of England. During this Sunday of Lent, the domestic servants and trade workers were allowed to travel back to their home towns to visit their families.
Mothering Day was left behind when the original settlers made the move to the New World and was virtually forgotten until shortly after the Civil War in the United States.
The first North American Mother’s Day
According to Mothersdaycentral.com the first North American Mother’s Day was conceptualized with Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, calling on a “general congress of women” to “promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, [and] the great and general interests of peace.”
Despite having penned The Battle Hymn of the Republic twelve years earlier, Howe had become so distraught by the Civil War and the death and destruction that it brought in it’s wake, that she called on all Mother’s to come together and protest what she saw as the futility of their “Sons killing the Sons of other Mothers”.
The Rise & Fall of Howe’s Mother’s Day
In 1873 disparate women’s groups in 18 American cities observed this new Mother’s holiday. It was Howe who initially funded many of these celebrations, but when she could no longer foot the bill most of them died out. The city of Boston, however, held on and would continue to see celebrations of Howe’s holiday for 10 more years.
Anna M. Jarvis’s Mother’s Day in 1908
Despite the failure of Howe’s holiday there was a seed planted that was to take root in a small town in West Virginia. It was there that a devote Methodist woman named Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis along with a group of like minded women began to celebrate an adaptation of Howe’s holiday. The primary purpose was to re-unite families and neighbors that had been divided by the Civil War a divide that was especially pronounced in the border regions of West Virginia. They called the event Mother’s Friendship Day.
After Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis died on May 9, 1905, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis began a lifelong campaign not only for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother and in honor of peace. But to then fight the retail industries commercialization of the holiday.
On May 10, 1908, the third anniversary of Ann’s death, a program was held at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton West Virginia and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania launching the observance of a general memorial day for all mothers.
Subsequently, the church observed Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May each year, making Andrews the mother church of Mother’s Day. The church, no longer an active Methodist congregation, was incorporated as an international shrine in 1962 and is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each weekday between April 15 and Oct. 15.
For the first official Mother’s Day service in 1908, Anna sent 500 white carnations to the church to be given to the participating mothers. During the next several years, she sent more than 10,000 carnations there. Carnations — red for the living and white for the deceased — became symbols of the purity, strength and endurance of motherhood.
Today, white carnations are used to honor deceased Mothers, while pink or red carnations pay tribute to Mothers who are still alive.
Andrew’s Methodist Church was incorporated into the International Mother’s Day Shrine in the late 1960’s, and in 1992, became a National Historic Landmark for its significance in the establishment of a national Mother’s Day celebration.
In 1908 Elmer Burkett a U.S. Senator from Nebraska, proposed making Mother’s Day a national holiday at the request of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). That specific proposal was defeated, but by 1909 there were forty-six states holding Mother’s Day services.
Anna Jarvis’s crusade took on a life of it’s own. She devoted herself full time to the creation and adoption of Mother’s Day. She partitioned everyone from state governments, women’s groups, to churches, business leaders and other institutions and organizations. She finally convinced the World’s Sunday School Association to back her. So with the influence they provided over the state legislators and the congress, it was in 1912 that West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day. 2 Years later in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson approved a resolution that made the second Sunday in May a holiday in honor of “that tender, gentle army, the mothers of America.”
The holiday flourished in the United States. Flowers, especially white carnations, became a very popular part of the
celebration. One business journal, Florists Review, went so far as to print, “This was a holiday that could be exploited.” This did not sit well with Anna Jarvis who felt it was a misuse of the day of honor and remembrance she worked so hard to bring about.
In 1923 Jarvis sued to stop a Mother’s Day event. In the 1930s she was arrested for disturbing the peace at the American War Mothers group: Ironically she was protesting their sale of flowers, when it was Jarvis herself who began the tradition of Mother’s Day flowers. Jarvis also petitioned against a postage stamp featuring her Mother with a vase of white carnations and the word “Mother’s Day.” She managed to have the words “Mother’s Day” removed but the flowers remained.
In 1938, an article was run in Time Magazine detailing Jarvis’s fight to copyright Mother’s Day. Still by then it was far to late. The commercialization of the day, and how the public would chose to acknowledge it was set. Also The range of gifts for Mother’s Day was greatly expanded well beyond flowers, to jewelry, chocolates and special dinners. (note here: You still better remember the flowers)
Anna Jarvis would die in 1948, blind, poor and forever childless herself. She would never know that it was, a grateful Florist’s Exchange that had anonymously paid for her care.
Mother’s Day: Inspiration for Father’s Day
According to History.com“The campaign to celebrate the nation’s fathers did not meet with the same enthusiasm–perhaps because, as one florist explained, “fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.” On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah, but it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday”.
Then in 1909, a woman from Spokane Washington, Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd thought of the idea for Father’s Day while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. In 1898 her Mother passed away while giving birth to her sixth child. This left the then 16 year old Sonora Smart Motherless with 5 younger brothers including the newborn infant Marshal. She joined with her father, William Jackson Smart, a Civil War Veteran originally from Marion Arkansas in raising her 5 brothers until she herself was married. Sonora wanted her father to know how special he was to her. It was her father that made all the sacrifices, sacrifices that in those days would have normally been made by the Mother. He was by all accounts a courageous, selfless, and loving man. Now since Sonora’s father was born in June, she felt it would be right to hold the first Father’s Day celebration in Spokane in June. Although she initially thought of celebrating Father’s Day on June 5 her own Father’s birthday, that date would not work with the other organizers. Thus, the first Father’s Day was held instead on the third Sunday in the month of June. The first June Father’s Day was celebrated on 19th June, 1910, in Spokane, WA, at the Spokane YMCA.
The Politician and orator, William Jennings Bryan took on the role of supporter and with his help the unofficial holiday quickly gained traction. President Woodrow Wilson, was the first U.S. President to celebrate Father’s Day in June 1916, at a party his family hosted. Still it wasn’t till 1924 that President Calvin Coolidge declared it a national holiday. However, many men continued to disdain the day. Rejecting the holiday’s perceived sentimental attempts to undermine their “Manliness” with flowers and gifts.
In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson, by official order, made Father’s Day a holiday to be celebrated on the third Sunday of June. Still the holiday was not formally considered law until 1972, when it was officially acknowledged by a Congressional Act setting it permanently on the third Sunday in June all over the nation.
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of $162.94 on mom this year, down from a survey high of $168.94 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $19.9 billion. The U.S. National Restaurant Association reports that Mother’s Day is the year’s most popular holiday for dining out.
Man that is a lot of carnations and bow ties!