In 16th century England a celebration called “Mothering Sunday” was inaugurated—a Sunday set aside for visiting one’s mother. The eldest son or daughter would bring a “mothering cake,” which would be cut and shared by the entire family. Family reunions were the order of the day, with sons and daughters assuming all household duties and preparing a special dinner in honor of their mother. Sometime during the day the mother
would attend special church services with her family.
Here in America, in 1872, Julia Ward Howe, a famous poet and pacifist who fought for abolition and women’s rights, suggested that June 2 be set aside to honor mothers in the name of world peace.
Nothing new happened in this department until 1907, when a Miss Anna M. Jarvis, of Philadelphia, wished to memorialize her mother’s life and started campaigning for a national day to honor all mothers.
Her mother, known as “Mother Jarvis,” was a young Appalachian homemaker and lifelong activist who had organized “Mother’s Work Days” to save the lives of those dying from polluted water.
During the Civil War, Mother Jarvis had also organized women’s brigades, encouraging women to help without regard for which side their men had chosen.
On May 10, 1908, a Mother’s Day service was held at a church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna’s mother had taught. Thus was born the idea that the second Sunday in May be set aside to honor all mothers, dead or alive.
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill designating the second Sunday in May as a legal holiday to be called “Mother’s Day”—dedicated “to the best mother in the world, your mother.”
For the first few years, the day was observed as a legal holiday, but in absolute simplicity and reverence—church services were held in honor of all mothers, living and dead.
In many ways family observance of Mother’s Day much resembled that of the British version of “Mothering Sunday.”