My Dear Friends and Readers,

She died penniless, childless and in a Philadelphia Sanatorium. Many women celebrate the day that she created, but Jarvis spent her life trying to keep it intimate and private. She failed. Yesterday was Mother’s Day and for many it was a joyous celebration for Mothers and Motherhood. However for some women it was a sad day.  A number of my friends remarked upon this national and international  celebration which did not include them. These are the women who chose not to have children; who couldn’t have children or lost children to miscarriage, sudden infant death syndrome, suicide and homicide. Some women didn’t become mothers because they never got married  and although they dearly wanted children, did not want to be single or foster or adoptive mothers on their own.

The origins  of Mother’s Day began in West Virginia in the 1850’s when women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis  held Mother’s Day groups to teach mothers about how to prevent milk contamination in an effort to  lower the rate of infant mortality. Ms. Reeves Jarvis was also a pacifist. During the U.S. Civil War Ann Reeves Jarvis would encourage women to tend to wounded soldiers without regard to whether they fought for the Confederacy or the Union Army. This was remarkable and out of the box thinking for those war torn days.



After the end of the Civil War Reeves Jarvis continued to hold  these Mother’s Day meetings calling them picnics to unite families torn apart by the Civil War.  Reeves Jarvis’s friend was Julia Ward Howe, best known as the composer of The Battle Hymn of the Republic,  Howe was a pacifist and  in 1870  read a widely read document called “Mother’s Day Proclamation” which urged women to take on a greater political voice for peace.  Howe wanted to use Mother’s Day as an International Day of Peace. She made that suggestion in 1872, but the idea did not take hold. Howe went on to be the head of the American chapter of the Women’s International Peace Association.  In 1905 Ann Reeves Jarvis died and would have probably been forgotten but for her daughter, Anna Jarvis.

Anna Jarvis never had children of her own, but after her mother died in 1905, Jarvis created the first observance of Mother’s Day in 1908. On May 10th of that year families gathered in Jarvis’s home town in Grafton West Virginia in a church  which was renamed as the International Mother’s Day Shrine. Gatherings were also held in Philadelphia where Jarvis had moved. According to Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College, Jarvis’ idea was to create a day of intimacy between mother and child. It was to be Mother’s Day (singular) and not  Mothers (plural) that a child could privately thank his or her mother for being the best mother. However, Jarvis wanted this day of honoring one’s mother to be nationally observed and she petitioned to do so. In 1914 she got her wish (sort of)  when Woodrow Wilson declared  that the second Sunday in May would be a national day of observance called Mother’s Day. From that time Mother’s Day began to be celebrated world-wide.

To Jarvis’s dismay Mother’s Day began to used by various groups whose intentions differed from hers. The day became commercialized and cards and flowers and gifts became a part of the celebration. The single carnation that was to be worn- colored if one’s mother was still alive and white if your mother had died- turned into a bonanza for  florists. The intimate hand written letter turned into greeting cards and gifts. All of this made Anna Jarvis very angry. So angry that she disrupted confectioner conventions and was arrested for disturbing the peace at a Mother’s Day Convention where women were selling carnations for peace.

I am not sure, why Anna Jarvis got so mad that her Mother’s Day celebration became a Mothers Day  Celebration. I think its a good thing that mother’s are honored, I think it’s even a better thing when women are honored. I don’t have a solution or an answer to this day where women who are mothers are celebrated while those who are not mothers are not… I have no answers for the heartbreak and unmet desire of childless women or women who have lost their children. I do like what Julia Ward Howe and Ann Reeves Jarvis wanted- women who were politically active to promote the  overall societal wellness of women.

Next year all my  Mother’s Day flowers will be carnations and all the women who have loved and supported me will be acknowledged regardless of whether they gave birth because I have been mothered by  women unrelated to me by blood or marriage. I will make Mother’s Day a day of peace and  I will make a pilgrimage of peace even if it is only to my own mother’s house. So, to you mothers who were not women or women who never gave birth but mothered others as teachers, nurses, doctors, friends, I salute you. Happy Mothering Day.


Brianna S. Clark
The Addict Writes


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