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The Untold History of Mother’s Day

May 12, 2012

by Lisa Butterworth

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Greeting card commercials and overpriced bouquets may be the hallmarks of Mother’s Day, but this American tradition was actually launched by the feminist and pacifist ideologies of two determined women.

The idea originated with activist Julia Ward Howe (you may know her as the poet who wrote the famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic”). After witnessing the destruction of the Civil War, Howe, a staunch suffragist and pacifist, wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, calling women to come together to rally for peace. “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience,” she wrote. “As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.”

Despite Howe’s persuasive prose, Mother’s Day didn’t take root until more than three decades later, after a long and tireless campaign led by Anna Jarvis. Jarvis grew up watching her mother, Ann Marie Jarvis, a pacifist activist, hold Mother’s Day Work Clubs on sanitation in the hopes of lowering the infant mortality rate, and Mother’s Friendship Day events to unite sparring Civil War loyalists after the war. When Ann Marie Jarvis died in May 1905, her daughter vowed to create a day of recognition. Anna’s efforts started in earnest in 1908, and in 1912, President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution declaring Mother’s Day the second Sunday in May.

It didn’t take long for corporations to realize what a cash cow this new holiday was, and cardmakers, chocolatiers, and florists quickly capitalized on Mother’s Day sentiments. Anna was appalled by the corporatization of her beloved cause, and spent the rest of her life fighting it, to no avail. “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” Jarvis said, according to the book Women Who Made A Difference. “And candy! You take a box to Mother — and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

As you celebrate your mother this weekend, take to heart the origin of the holiday and pay tribute with a heartfelt gift that’s more than just lip service.

Vintage Mother Brooch Heart Shaped gold tone
Vintage Mother Brooch Heart Shaped gold tone
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English Edwardian sterling silver mother brooch for mothers day
English Edwardian sterling silver mother brooch for mothers day
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Vintage 1950s Greeting Cards Lot of three Mother's day
Vintage 1950s Greeting Cards Lot of three Mother's day
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Vase, Mother and Baby Bird Vase, Mother's day, gift for mom
Vase, Mother and Baby Bird Vase, Mother's day, gift for mom
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Charming Rhinestone Brooch/ Pendant Spelling "Mother"
Charming Rhinestone Brooch/ Pendant Spelling "Mother"
Sold

2 Featured Comments

  • metalicious

    Stephanie Maslow Blackman from metalicious said 5 years ago Featured

    What a long journey to get to our current definition of Mother's Day. While I appreciate the rally against war and the mom's club ideas, I also appreciate the little handmade gifts from my kids that mean the world to me. And being able to sleep until 8am one day a year is nice, too. Thanks for sharing such a rich history of Mother's Day!

  • livfortoday

    Liv Gabel from MansionHouseRoad said 5 years ago Featured

    I love that it was a day for mothers to join together and become stronger. I will remember that always. This is my first Mothers day and I look forward to using it as a day to make the world better.

79 comments

  • DandiLionShop

    Laura Melissa from LaLaLandAccessories said 5 years ago

    Wow. Thank you for sharing ! I'm sharing this with my friends on Facebook. This is something everyone should read.

  • uswatsons

    Sylvie Liv from SylvieLiv said 5 years ago

    How neat! Mothers sure deserve a day in their favor don't they! That bird vase from redhotpottery is darling!

  • jadedgoats

    Judy Wright from JudithGayleDesigns said 5 years ago

    This is so well said...and so true!

  • TheIDconnection

    TheIDConnection from TheIDconnection said 5 years ago

    Beautiful -wonderful story, I did not know that !

  • TheSewingGin

    TheSewingGin from TheSewingGin said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this information and spreading the love of motherhood.

  • cammoo

    cammoo from cammoo said 5 years ago

    I have always loved mother's day and I truly love this story! I will be spending the day planting my mother's garden .. just so. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • StringBeardCraftery

    Stephanie from StringBeardCraftery said 5 years ago

    Such a great article! And so right! I completely agree with everything, especially that awesome quote about printed cards! Now THAT should be on a card!

  • volkerwandering

    Jess from volkerwandering said 5 years ago

    Thought provoking!

  • virginiaclara

    Clara Lambert from MarigoldandSage said 5 years ago

    A wonderful read and very thought provoking. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • kgpaintings

    Kirsten Gilmore from PaintingsByKEGilmore said 5 years ago

    Thanks for the article. My current avatar is a closeup shot of a large watercolor painting I made for my mother last Mother's Day. It definitely had more impact than the expected card. :)

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    Great read! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • VintageMarketPlace

    VintageMarketPlace from VintageMarketPlace said 5 years ago

    i can't wait for my handmade mothers day when my baby gets older :)

  • ErikaPrice

    Erika from ErikaPrice said 5 years ago

    Thanks for a great read. It's nice to know about the origins of Mothers Day in the USA - it has a very different history here in the UK. Lovely choices too :)

  • Auntiesoapworts

    Auntiesoapworts from BrackenfernCottage said 5 years ago

    Bravo for a wonderful article. I love the idea of rather calling it, "Mother's Friendship Day" myself. Thank you!

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing!

  • IsabelleKnits

    IsabelleKnits from IsabelleKnits said 5 years ago

    Interesting info. Happy Mother's day to all mums.

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 5 years ago

    Very nice article!

  • lilyjewels68

    Lily from VitaGems said 5 years ago

    Great article,thanks for sharing!

  • oceanityhandmade

    Michelle Cornelison from oceanityhandmade said 5 years ago

    Thank you so much for this post! Kudos to you. Sometimes our cynicism can get the better of us and we don't even try to find the good.

  • imagadikt

    Diana Jahns from imagadikt said 5 years ago

    Thanks for setting us straight. love it!

  • laralewis

    Laurie Lewis from ShopHedgerowRose said 5 years ago

    Wow, I had no idea. I'm so impressed by those women and it's given me a lot of food for thought. Thank you for sharing this!

  • lauraprill

    Laura Prill from lauraprill said 5 years ago

    Very heartening to read about the roots of this commercialized holiday, particularly the story of the mother daughter relationships that inspired it.

  • uniquefabricgifts

    Unique Fabric Gifts from uniquefabricgifts said 5 years ago

    Great article! Thank you for sharing!

  • bedouin

    Nicole from Crackerjackarma said 5 years ago

    I didn't know that ~ great story ! Beautiful finds

  • collageoscope

    Sonja Smith from collageoscope said 5 years ago

    I love this article! What a wonderful and rich history, a true mothers day. It's so wonderful to read because the original idea is so sustaining to life, it should be sustained... Thanks to Lisa for carrying it forward.

  • metalicious

    Stephanie Maslow Blackman from metalicious said 5 years ago Featured

    What a long journey to get to our current definition of Mother's Day. While I appreciate the rally against war and the mom's club ideas, I also appreciate the little handmade gifts from my kids that mean the world to me. And being able to sleep until 8am one day a year is nice, too. Thanks for sharing such a rich history of Mother's Day!

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 5 years ago

    Mothers do very important work every single day 24/7.

  • ananemone

    Sara Boatright from ananemone said 5 years ago

    hmm, when the Battle Hymn of the Republic was written, I don't think Howe was much of a pacifist ("as he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free!"); she was an abolitionist, rather fervent, and a pacifist after the war.

  • OliveSpoonStudio

    Michael and Erin Waite from OliveSpoonStudio said 5 years ago

    Great article! Nice to learn that Hallmark wasn't behind it! I'll enjoy it more, now :)

  • BlackForestCottage

    Donna and Darrell Knish from BlackForestCottage said 5 years ago

    I never knew. Thanks for all the amazing info.

  • rinnyc

    Erin said 5 years ago

    Wow i learned ALOT!!!!!!!!!!! :P Thanks.

  • isewcute

    June from isewcute said 5 years ago

    I never thought about the history of Mother's day before! Thanks for sharing!

  • PattiTrostle

    Patti Trostle from PattiTrostle said 5 years ago

    Interesting. Didn't know this..thanks!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 5 years ago

    Great story! My mother is from Grafton, WV, Anne Jarvis's hometown. You can visit her house there.

  • brenda45

    Brenda Smith from BrendasJewellryBox said 5 years ago

    Great read! Thanks for sharing. :)

  • tomsgrossmami

    Tom's Grossmami from tomsgrossmami said 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing!

  • KKSimpleRegalJewelry

    Krista from TheBeadtriss said 5 years ago

    Interesting... did not know that. Now I know why some Mennonite pacifists would play that song.... ~KK~

  • sadiedesignsca

    Sarah from CAMPandQUARRY said 5 years ago

    So interesting, I never knew the origins of Mother's Day. For Mother's Day this year I'm going to be sure to give my mom a call (she lives one province over) and make her a one-of-a-kind jewelry piece. Those are the kind of gifts that are keepers, in my opinion! Thanks for this post!

  • bellsandunicorns

    Sally from bellsandunicorns said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing the REAL history of Mother's Day. I always wondered how it got started...

  • IcingOnTheCupcake

    IcingOnTheCupcake from IcingOnTheCupcake said 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing. I never realized Mother's Day had this history behind it.

  • FranceGallery

    France Gallery from FranceGallery said 5 years ago

    Really interesting to learn the history behind this special day!

  • TheMillineryShop

    Marcia Lacher from TheMillineryShop said 5 years ago

    Wow, I had no idea. I would have sworn it was made up by the greeting card industry. So, should I be more insulted or less insulted if my grown kids do nothing for mothers day??

  • goodbeads

    goodbeads from goodbeads said 5 years ago

    Very interesting,great article,thanks for sharing!

  • pinkpoppies1991

    Pink Poppies from pinkpoppies1991 said 5 years ago

    Lovely! Will be forwarding this around today :)

  • TheMillineryShop

    Marcia Lacher from TheMillineryShop said 5 years ago

    That's amazing. I would have sworn it was made up by the greeting card industry. I must share this article.

  • TwoBeesCreations

    Bonnie and Briana from TwoBeesCreations said 5 years ago

    What an interesting story about Mother's Day- good to get the word out about the beginning of this holiday. I was excited to see an article by someone from Bust- I love that mag!

  • livfortoday

    Liv Gabel from MansionHouseRoad said 5 years ago Featured

    I love that it was a day for mothers to join together and become stronger. I will remember that always. This is my first Mothers day and I look forward to using it as a day to make the world better.

  • 2TrickPony

    Rachel from 2TrickPony said 5 years ago

    I'll take peace. what greater gift could anyone have.

  • SuzisPillowStudio

    Suzi from ThePillowStudioShop said 5 years ago

    Thank you! Now I can really sit back, relax & enjoy Mothers Day knowing this holiday is actually legit.

  • brainfart

    brainfart from brainfart said 5 years ago

    And to this day mother's still rally for peace ! Lisa thank you for this insightful and inspiring blog ! Happy Mother's Day to everyone at Etsy !!!

  • Zalavintage

    Zane Saracene from Zalavintage said 5 years ago

    my daughter and I participated in a walk to raise funds for a girls club in NYC this morning, it didn't dawn on me until I saw this post that it's Mother's Day weekend, of course I knew, but didn't tie the two events together... how fitting this walk was held today, many of the girls who belong to this club consider it their home, their foundation and how lucky are we to be able to celebrate our mothers!

  • solo24

    solo24 said 5 years ago

    I never thought of the history of Mother's Day. I thought it was created by the greeting card industry. it is interesting that Mother's Day started as a rally for peace!! I will pass on.

  • nevinackered

    Verica C from OddityCollective said 5 years ago

    This was a good thing to share with us, thanks so much! I always hope that people who wish their mother a happy Mother's Day do it out of sincerity, rather than out of obligation.

  • lizzielh

    Elizabeth Hayton from DeliciousPrints said 5 years ago

    Did Mother's Day originate in the US? We have Mother's Day in the UK but it takes place in Lent (so we've already had it).

  • LoveVintageLoot

    Miss Kari from BriteStarVintage said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this touching history/tribute to the nurturing spirit of women. I am grateful this day of remembering "mom" was inspired by such a wonderfully gracious soul! It's perfect.

  • coalchild

    coalchild from coalchild said 5 years ago

    beautiful....anyday to honor mom is a goodday..really nice to know the tradition has a deeper feminist meaning..kudos Lisa

  • Joliejye

    Julie Duchesne from Joliejye said 5 years ago

    Very interesting ! Thank you for this instructive article.

  • PolClary

    PolClary from PolClary said 5 years ago

    I never knew that!

  • sandstormcreations

    sandstormcreations from sandstormcreations said 5 years ago

    Great story. I never knew how mother's day began.

  • misponko

    Liudmila Rosario Ponko from PonkoWorld said 5 years ago

    beautiful story!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 5 years ago

    Great article!

  • MagpieQuilts

    Ann from MagpieQuilts said 5 years ago

    Interesting story! Happy Mom's Day to all the moms out there! My mom was such a great influence on me and I hope that I show my appreciation for her strength and knowledge and love all through the year, not just on mother's day.

  • CamelsAndCustard

    Holly from CamelsAndCustard said 5 years ago

    Very true! a heartfelt or handmade gift means so much more. Happy mother's Day!!!!

  • bklynmonica

    Monica Rossi said 5 years ago

    Love how the initial impetus was saving and protecting their sons - how selflessly motherly!

  • ViviennesAttic

    Julie from ViviennesAttic said 5 years ago

    Wonderful timely info! Thank you. Am sharing on my FB page!

  • shirleyroseart

    shirleyroseart from shirleyroseart said 5 years ago

    Must share. Love your shop!

  • fineartstoneware

    fineartstoneware from fineartstoneware said 5 years ago

    Great article.

  • pohkoon

    Poh Koon from NeueGraphic said 5 years ago

    Thanks for the sharing, It's meaningful and great to know. :)

  • mpageperkins

    Melissa Perkins from BurgundyBluVintage said 5 years ago

    Thanks for the story! This year mom got cozy pajamas, wine and a homemade white chicken spinach lasagna.

  • BmadeNEW

    rikki colacurcio from BmadeNEW said 5 years ago

    Thanks so much! Didn't know the real history but not a bit surprised. Moms and their profound love is WAY bigger than card and candy companies! .....was repulsed this year by all the street vendors with baskets and flowers at the 11th hour.....now i better understand exactly why.

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 5 years ago

    I never knew this about mothers day I always thought it was a 'corporate' holiday created by card companies!

  • IkvothaMashiach70

    Gabrielle Knight from RuffleNBustle said 5 years ago

    I love knowing the history of things! Great article!

  • guziks

    Stephanie from Phylogeny said 5 years ago

    Very interesting article, I had no idea the roots of this corporate holiday. So glad it's been clarified!!

  • wh00pwhoop

    wh00pwhoop said 5 years ago

    This is my mothers day gift. A good conversation. Thank you.

  • ArtWhimsCrochet

    Jeananne Sizemore from ArtWhimsCrochet said 5 years ago

    What a lovely article :O) Made me smile from ear to ear!

  • QsGoodies

    Q from QsGoodies said 5 years ago

    Beautiful article....Thanks for sharing!

  • yomarismillan

    Golden Hearts MILLAN from AgapeArts said 5 years ago

    That's amazing! I never really stopped to think about how mothers day started! I'm going to email this link to some people! This was very informative, I'm glad I had a chance to read it.

  • santapa4u2012

    George Dehmer from GEORGEcoins said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing that wonderful story; My Mom went to Heaven 27 years ago & the very best years of your life is when you can share you life with your loving Mother ; I used to give her flowers & of coarse to The Mother of my children; I would always give both bouquets to my Wife & let her decide which one would go to Mom & that way we could both enjoy the good felling of giving Her the BEST; I hope your reading this, Mom------- We all miss you------

  • dloustalot

    Danielle Loustalot from SomethingFromTheSun said 5 years ago

    This is an awesome article, thank you so much for sharing! It's true that your mother is absolutely the person who does most for you in your life. It's very interesting to know that the most significant person involved in founding Mother's Day completely protested society jumping in on greeting cards and boxes of chocolate. Next year, I'll appreciate Mother's Day a heck of a lot more!

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