In a resolution passed May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress established the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. Congress specified that on that day American flags should be flown outside homes and government buildings "as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country." But what does patriotism have to do with Mother's Day?

The founder of Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis, saw the connection. Born in Grafton, West Virginia, in 1864, she witnessed the aftermath of the Civil War. Her mother, Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis, had spent the war organizing women to nurse wounded soldiers from North and South and generally attempting to hold her border state community together. After the war, Anna Maria started "Mothers' Friendship Days" to reconcile families divided by the conflict.

Throughout her life, Anna Maria modeled ideal Victorian motherhood. She gave up her dreams of college to tend to an older husband and four children. She bore the loss of seven other children with grace. She taught Sunday school in the local Methodist church for 20 years and stayed active in benevolent work.

Anna Maria's death in 1905 devastated her daughter. Two years later, Anna got the idea to found a holiday to remember her mother and all mothers, whom she felt could never be thanked enough. It was also Anna's idea to place Mother's Day near Memorial Day (which had been proclaimed in 1868) in recognition of women's contributions in wartime: sending sons and husbands to fight, tending the wounded, maintaining households alone, and encouraging peace and reconciliation. Memorial Day honored the sacrifices of men; Mother's Day would honor the sacrifices of women.

Mother's Day was first celebrated in 1908 in Grafton and Philadelphia, where Anna ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.