Notes on the History of Mother's Day: 5 Things Worth Knowing

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1. Mother of the Pharaohs
As with many of our calendar-specific events and customs, some of the earliest records of a society honoring a mother can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, who held an annual festival for the goddess Isis, sometimes referred to as the Mother of the Pharaohs.

Given the following list of a.k.a.'s, it's no wonder she had her own day of celebration (top this moms!): Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Gods, The One Who is All, Lady of Green Crops, The Brilliant One in the Sky, Star of the Sea, Great Lady of Magic, Mistress of the House of Life, She Who Knows How To Make Right Use of the Heart, Light-Giver of Heaven, Lady of the Words of Power, and She Who Dominates the Remote (okay, okay, but she probably WOULD have, had there been remote control domination issues at the time).

cybele7.jpg 2. Magna Mater
Of course, the Greeks and Romans had to have something like an Isis day, too. In Greece, there was a special day to celebrate the annual spring festival, in honor of Rhea, the Mother of Zeus, a.k.a., "The mother of the Gods." The Romans (and some Greeks) called her Cybele, or Magna Mater. According to a few sources, male Magna Mater wannabees would castrate themselves, don women's clothing and assume female identities. (Do we know any modern-day moms who've had the same effect on men?)

the virgin mary with gesus.tempera on wood.30 x 20cm.collection of mons.fabio attard.malta.jpg 3. The Mother of all Churches
As Christianity spread through Europe, it became fashionable to honor the church in which one was baptized. People would honor their "mother church" with flowers on the fourth Sunday of Lent in honor of the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. Then, in England, in the 1600s, a decree took hold, widening the celebration to include actual mothers, and voila, we have the birth of "Mothering Sunday," as it was called. Christians were also allowed to eat on this Lenten Sunday, which meant a one-day break from the 40 day pre-Easter fast. In addition to flowers, it was a time for families to travel in order to be together, much like our present-day Mother's Day.

4. The Hymn for Womyn
What do Mother's Day and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" have in common? Julia Ward Howe, of course. It was her eyes that saw much more than the glory of the coming of the Lord. In 1870, 12 years after penning the "infamous" lyric, she wrote a Mother's Day Proclamation that said:

julia_ward_howe_400.jpg
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts"¦
We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

It was an anti-war protest of sorts, in which she insisted on an international Mother's Day celebrating peace and motherhood. She proposed July 4th, but ultimately June 2nd was picked as the day. The new holiday, however, slowly fizzled out and by 1900, it was no longer celebrated.

anna.jpg5. The Hallmark of Hard Work
Then, in 1908, Mother's Day was born again at Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, thanks to the efforts of one Anna M. Jarvis, who was looking to honor her mother Anna Reeves Jarvis, who'd recently passed away after spending more than 20 years teaching Sunday school at the church. Every mom who showed up to the memorial received 2 white carnations. The event was so successful, Anna quit her job and went all over the country petitioning state governments, women groups, churches, anyone who'd get behind her cause to create a national Mother's Day. Her hard work paid off and in 1912, West Virginia became the first state to recognize Mother's Day. Two years later, good old President Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance, reserving the second Sunday in May as the official Mother's Day. And there was much rejoicing in the offices of Hallmark. (You think I'm joking, but the card company was founded in 1910, so it's entirely possible.)

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May 8, 2008 - 12:49pm
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