Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thoughts on Mothers, Motherhood and Anna Jarvis

SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2011

Today is Mother’s Day in Canada, the United States and many other countries.  In the United Kingdom and Ireland, mothers are honoured on the fourth Sunday of Lent (in March or April) and the celebration is known as "Mothering Sunday."

Mother's Day was established in the United States due to the efforts of Anna Marie Jarvis and her tireless devotion to her mother.  Anna's mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, grew up in present-day West Virginia.  In 1850, she married Granville E. Jarvis.  They had 12 children, eight of whom died before reaching adulthood.  Four died of disease.

Anna's mother worked relentlessly to raise awareness of the poor health conditions in her Appalachian community.  She organized a series of Mothers' Day Work Clubs to improve conditions.  The clubs provided money for medicine and sent women to assist families in which mothers suffered from tuberculosis. During the Civil War, Anna's mother urged her Mothers' Day Work Clubs to remain neutral during the conflict.  The clubs treated the wounded and fed and clothed soldiers in the area.

When Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis died on May, 9, 1905, her devoted daughter became determined to carry on her legacy.  On May 10, 1908, Anna organized a memorial service for women in honour of her mother.  This Mother's Day service took place at Andrews Methodist Episopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna's mother had taught Sunday School.  Those in attendance were presented wtih white carnations, Anna's mother's favourite flower.  Thus began the tradition of giving mothers carnations on Mother's Day. 

With the assistance of Philadelphia merchant named John Wanamaker, Anna Jarvis campaigned vigorously to have Mother's Day designated as a U.S. national holiday.  She campaigned continuously, writing letters and lobbying business people, politicians and clergy.  Her persistence paid off.  On April 26, 1910, Mother's day was declared an official holiday by the state of West Virginia.  The other states followed suit and on May 8, 1914, the United States Congress passed a law recognizing the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.  On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first National National Mother's Day to honour those mothers whose sons had died in war.

In the 1920s, Anna Jarvis became increasingly angry and disappointed by the commercialization and gift giving associated wtih Mother's Day. According to a news column by journalist Tom Henshaw, "She invaded and all but broke up a convention of the Associated Retail Confectioners in 1923. She was arrested in 1925 for trying to prevent the American War Mothers from selling white carnations." "But most of all, " wrote Henshaw, "she assailed the nation's florists for horning in on her holy day. Whenever she had the chance, she assailed the 'charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites' who had co-opted her day." 

Anna Jarvis never married and never bore children.  She died in poverty in West Chester, Pennsylvania on November 24, 1948.  The church in Grafton is now the home of the International Mother's Day Shrine and the United States Department of the Interior has designated it as a national historic site.

Anna Jarvis

In honour of the celebration of Mother's Day, Number 16 proudly presents some quotations and reflections on motherhood. I would like to dedicate this to my own mother, Frances.


My mother had a good deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.

- Mark Twain
From Autobiography [1924]

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!  And candy!  You take a box to Mother - and then eat most of it yourself.  A pretty sentiment.

- Anna Jarvis

A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavour by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.

- Washington Irving (1783- 1859)

For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

- William Ross Wallace (1819-1881)
From "What rules the world" [1865]

What do girls do who haven't any mothers to help them through their troubles?

- Louisa May Alcott (1832-188)
From Little Women

Men are what their mothers made them.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson
From Conduct of Life

The mother's yearning, that completest type of the life in another life in which is the essence of real human love, feels the presence of the cherished child even in the debased, degraded man.

- George Eliot (1819-1880), English novelist
From Adam Bede

Mother o' Mine

If i were hanged on the highest hill
Mother 'o mine. O mother 'o mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother 'o mine, O mother 'o mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea
Mother 'o mine, O mother 'o mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother 'o mine, O mother 'o mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole.
Mother 'o mine, O mother 'o mine!

- By Rudyard Kipling


- Joanne

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