The history of Mother’s Day

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell

As most of us are aware, Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and we will spend the day being thankful for our mothers and mothers everywhere. However, I would be willing to bet that few of us know the history of Mother’s Day and how we have come to celebrate it as we do. The following is a brief history about the origin of Mother’s Day.

The origins of Mother’s Day are ancient. The Greeks and Romans worshiped Rhea and Cybele as mothers of the gods, holding annual festivals in their honor. Early Christians recognized the Virgin Mary and the Mother Church during the religious celebration of Lent. These evolved, becoming a part of today’s Mother’s Day events. The fourth Sunday in Lent is called Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day in Great Britain. This celebration dates from medieval times when workers were given time off to travel home to visit their mother. On this holiday people throughout Great Britain spend time with their mothers, attend special church services, and give presents such as notes, cakes, homemade gifts, and flowers.

In the United States, beginning in the 1850s, Ann Jarvis organized Mother’s Work Days to promote and improve health conditions throughout Appalachia. She continued these sanitation efforts during the Civil War and beyond until her death in the early 1900s. In remembrance of her mother and as a memorial for all mothers, her daughter Anna Jarvis organized the first Mother’s Day in 1908. Anna campaigned for a national Mother’s Day celebration.

Julia Ward Howe, a poet and pacifist, wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation to encourage women to demand world peace. This further promoted the idea of a special day for mothers. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day official, declaring it a national holiday to recognize women who had lost a son in World War I. Ironically within a few years, due to excessive commercialization, Anna Jarvis regretted her decision to seek a nationally recognized Mother’s Day. In the United States Mother’s Day is held on the second Sunday in May. Over time the holiday has become a celebration where children show appreciation for their mother with cards, flowers, candy, doing extra chores, and dining out.

Around the world there are many holidays that commemorate mothers. Each spring in France on Fete des Meres children present cards, poems, a special meal, and a cake to their mothers. Durga Puja is a 10-day festival in India, honoring the Hindu “Divine Mother.” Although the Catholic Church plays a prominent role on Mother’s Day in Spain and Portugal, children still take part by offering their mothers chocolates and homemade gifts. Mother’s Day in Sweden is a family celebration where money is raised to help mothers and children in need. In Thailand Mother’s Day celebrations coincide with the queen’s birthday. On March 8, International Women’s Day recognizes the collective power of women, seeking to inspire women everywhere to achieve their full potential.

While globally these events fall on different days, they all share the common thread of honoring women. These special days recognize women, and in particular mothers, for notable achievements, contributions to the community, and their importance to every family. As the old saying goes, if it were not for our mothers, none of us would be here today!

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a National Board Certified Teacher and freelance writer. If you have any questions or comments, please contact him at

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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